To help preserve a Persian New Year tradition, the South Coast Air Quality Management District has offered a slight reprieve to those who want to burn wood in Newport Beach's fire pits.
Wood can be burned in the pits until March 24, said City Manager Dave Kiff, when the agency and city will begin enforcing new regulations that were originally scheduled to go into effect March 1.
Thousands of people have flocked to Newport Beach around the holiday in years past, using the fire rings to fulfill a tradition that involves leaping over flames.
On the last Wednesday of the old year, revelers shout traditional phrases as they jump over the fire, an act intended to wipe away bad things that happened over the year.
Because the beginning of the new year, which occurs with the vernal equinox just before 10 a.m. March 20, falls so near to the city's transition to meet AQMD's new rules, the city and AQMD worried that celebrants might bring illegal burning materials, Kiff said.
The agency accordingly decided to delay the enforcement of fire pit regulations until after the holiday "to ease the transition to the new requirements," wrote AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood in an email.
At that time, a new city ordinance that will limit allowable burning materials to charcoal, bringing the city into compliance with the new AQMD standards, will be enforced.
Enforcement will begin with warnings and outreach efforts, which will phase into administrative citations and a $100 fine for a first-time violation, according to the city's website.
Come 2015, Kiff continued, Persian New Year celebrants may instead be leaping over fires created from natural gas or charcoal — both of which are permitted under the new rules.
Natural firewood and low-emission logs may also some day return to the fire pits when the rings are moved farther apart per the city's longer-term plan, a decision that awaits approval by the California Coastal Commission.