Suit filed over new fire ring rules

Advocates hoping to keep wood-burning fire rings on Orange County beaches have asked the court to intervene and strike down newly-enacted rules limiting the activity.

Newport Beach-based nonprofit Friends of the Fire Rings Tuesday filed suit in Orange County Superior Court asking a judge to strike down parts of regulations the South Coast Air Quality Management District approved in July.

The new rules mandated a 700-foot buffer between fire pits and homes, limited use on days with poor air quality and gave more authority to cities to ban the pits.

Friends of the Fire Rings argued those regulations were crafted as a political compromise, not as a response to scientific research on air quality.

Under the rules, Newport Beach could remove its 60 fire rings — something the City Council previously voted to do, spurring the AQMD to consider banning them throughout the area — and the vast majority of pits could remain in Huntington Beach where residents and officials decried the idea of a ban.

"The AQMD has violated the public trust and acted in excess of its authority by creating a rule based on politics rather than on scientific proof of air quality benefits," Melinda Luthin, lead attorney for Friends of the Fire Rings, said in a prepared statement sent out Tuesday afternoon.

Luthin argued it's irrational to ban wood-burning pits in one area but allow them in another. She also noted there was no move to ban residential fire places or fire pits, just ones on public beaches.

Tuesday night, the Newport Beach City Council considered whether it would participate in a pilot program with the AQMD to install gas-power fire pits on the beach to replace the wood burners.

Friends of the Fire Rings called the idea "costly and potentially dangerous."

"Until and unless we are shown that a viable substitute exists, not one fire ring should be removed," Doug Swardstrom, a spokesman for the group, said.

The AQMD declined to comment.

"We have not seen the lawsuit so therefore we don't have any comment on the lawsuit," Spokeswoman Tina Cherry said.

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