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Laguna Beach OK’s return of wood-burning fire pits to Aliso Beach

Laguna Beach City Council has approved the installation wood-burning fire pits at Aliso Beach.
The Laguna Beach City Council has approved the installation of up to seven new wood-burning fire pits at Aliso Beach now that the beach is under local control. Above, participants of a drum circle gather around one of the old fire pits.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)
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Roughly a year after Laguna Beach assumed control of operations of several beaches in South Laguna from the county of Orange, the city is preparing to bring back wood-burning fire pits in time for summer.

The City Council unanimously voted Tuesday night the installation of up to seven wood-burning fire pits at Aliso Beach. A staff report requested council direction in the hope the fire pits could be put in place by Memorial Day weekend.

Visuals shared during a presentation at the meeting showed as many as seven fire pits on the sand in 2010 that had either been removed by the county prior to the transfer of ownership or were lost due to storm activity.

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“We know that they’re going to be moved in specific areas due to storm events,” acting Marine Safety Chief Kai Bond said Tuesday.

The fire pits will be available for use at no charge on a first-come, first-serve basis. Police and marine safety personnel will monitor activities surrounding the fire pits.

Lost Pier Cafe, a concession business at Aliso Beach, can also rent out up to five portal propane fire pits.

Councilman Bob Whalen asked what becomes of the remnants of the fire when persons using the fire pits get ready to leave.

The Laguna Beach City Council appropriated $20,000 from the South Laguna fund to purchase up to seven wood-burning fire pits.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“The intent and the use of these fire pits are to allow the visitors or residents to utilize them, and if there are any fires … left, then they would burn themselves out within the confinement of the ring itself,” Fire Marshal Robert Montaghami said. “That’s why the separation is important and the distance from local vegetation is important, as well.”

Between the wood-burning and propane fire pits, there could be up to a dozen fire pits at Aliso Beach. South Coast Air Quality Management District regulations dictate they must be at least 50 feet apart if there are no more than 15 devices in which fires are burning on a contiguous beach area within the city limits.

No fuel should be added to a fire within an hour of the Aliso Beach parking lot closing, Bond added.

Use of the fire pits will not be permitted during red-flag and no-burn days. Mayor Sue Kempf requested that Nixle alerts communicate information when the AQMD declares no-burn days.

The City Council directed staff to appropriate $20,000 from the South Laguna fund for the purchase of the fire pits.

Wood-burning fire pits were previously in use at Aliso Beach when the South Laguna beaches were controlled by Orange County.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Signage warning of natural hazards was installed near a sea cave at 10th Street Beach in June. Bond told the council that incidents resulting in death had occurred in the area in years past.

In addition, the city has installed two observation cameras — at Aliso and Camel Point beaches — and has plans to add another.

“We have one at Aliso Beach,” Bond said of the cameras. “One is installed above the Pride [lifeguard] tower [at Camel Point], and the other hotspot area that we identified, and we’re working with the homeowners, is at Lighthouse Cove.

“Lighthouse Cove is an area that’s very difficult to see. It’s the exit of the sea cave and where those deaths had occurred. It just allows us to monitor those areas remotely, and it just allows us to shift resources to get into those areas, which we normally wouldn’t be able to see. They’re a huge benefit to our operation.”

The cameras are monitored by the marine safety dispatch center, although marine safety dispatch is not a 24-hour operation, Bond said.

Marine safety statistics were provided for the year since the March 2023 transfer of the beaches in South Laguna, which covers a stretch from Aliso Beach to Three Arch Bay. There were 2,383 rescues, 2,463 medical aids, 73,024 ordinance advisements, and 193,901 preventive contacts in South Laguna.

Public works officials requested additional funding for day porter services, including trash and recycling pickup and cleaning and restocking of restrooms.

“When we began these services in March 2023, we started off using the most fiscally conservative level of service, but within months, we saw the need to increase our service levels,” Director of Public Works Reza Jafari said. “By August, during the height of the peak visitor season, we had nearly tripled our service levels, which based on the reduced number of complaints, let us know we had hit the marks with the appropriate staffing.”

The council authorized the city manager to increase the annual contract amount by $580,000 for the day porter services. Additionally, $450,000 from the South Laguna fund will go toward support for beach maintenance operations.

A trial period for a designated skimboarding area at Aliso Beach was also extended indefinitely.

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