Commentary: Fire ring opponents are portrayed unfairly

It’s sad to me that people are painting such an ugly picture of Newport Beach residents who are concerned about the health of their families.

This debate about the fire pits is not about wealthy Newport Beach residents trying to keep people from visiting the beaches. My husband and I are not wealthy, and we don’t live in Newport Beach. We are residents of Huntington Beach and are concerned for the health of our baby, who breathes in this smoke on an ongoing basis.

If you had a baby and walked into his or her bedroom and it smelled like smoke, would you be concerned? I hope the answer is yes. We would do anything to protect our child. I can therefore understand how those living near the pits in Newport Beach have the same concerns for their families.

Newport Beach has 60 fire pits. The City Council decided unanimously to have them removed because of health concerns. I applaud the council members and mayor. They have stood firm in the face of inappropriate, mean-spirited comments from those who don’t live near the pits.


City leaders opted to replace the pits with other fun amenities that would continue to draw visitors without health risks to them or nearby residents, so clearly they not are trying to keep visitors away from the beaches.

Huntington Beach has 450 fire pits. The mayor of Huntington Beach and the City Council are in favor of keeping them because they are popular and produce parking revenue. I hope they care enough about the health of the residents — and especially the children — to start looking at healthy alternatives to wood burning.

Many residents of Huntington Beach may just now be learning of this debate and the toxic effects of wood smoke inhalation. They may be hearing for the first time that wood smoke is more carcinogenic than tobacco smoke [“The Health Effects of Wood Smoke,” Washington state Department of Ecology], and contains many of the same toxic compounds, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

A laboratory study at Louisiana State University [“Persistent free radicals in wood smoke: an ESR spin trapping study”] has also shown that hazardous free radicals in wood smoke are chemically active 40 times longer than those from cigarette smoke — so once inhaled, they will harm the body far longer.


I am very grateful to the South Coast Air Quality Management District for standing up to protect the public’s health. This is exactly why such agencies exist. Its judgment is not to be clouded by popular opinion, city revenue or votes for re-election, as is likely the case with elected local officials.

The AQMD’s responsibility is to protect the public’s health (especially the health of children who have no voice in these matters) as well as the environment, while making recommendations for alternatives so the cities can continue to draw visitors to their beautiful beaches.

There are many ways to do this without polluting the air and risking the health of children living nearby.

JULIE SANDERCOCK is a Huntington Beach resident.