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Now beach bonfires could be restricted statewide

Bonfire

This post has been corrected. See note at bottom for details.

The flames may have been turned up higher in the debate over whether dozens of fire rings – nostalgic to some, bothersome to others – should be removed from two popular beaches in Balboa and Corona del Mar.

While the California Coastal Commission agreed Wednesday to delay its vote on the fate of the fire rings, state air quality officials indicated that they will take up the bonfire issue later this spring as part of a debate that could affect the future on beach bonfires along the entire California coastline.

Residents in Newport Beach, with the support of the city, said the fire pits have become a public nuisance and that the smoke billowing from the beach campfires can be choking.

But Coastal Commission staffers have recommended keeping the fire rings, which they see as a free attraction for beach goes and a symbol of full public access. Some commissioners on Wednesday seemed to reject the city’s proposal to install volleyball courts, playgrounds and covered picnic areas as a tradeoff.

“This is really a way of controlling the public,” said Commissioner Esther Sanchez. “The suggestions that have been made about what kind of recreation activities that could be put in place are really geared toward local residents.”

The debate over beach fires, though, may be on the cusp of going statewide.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District said this week that it will meet in May to consider whether fire rings should be more heavily restricted.

“We spent millions and millions and millions of dollars in research to find out what the cause and effect of this stuff is,” said Commissioner William Burke, who also serves on the South Coast AQMD board.

He said it’s well established that wood smoke can lead to health problems.

While some spoke of the tradition of the beach bonfires along the oceanfront, others had a less romantic view.

Corona del Mar resident John Hamilton, who said he was recently diagnosed with emphysema, said the fire rings should go the same way as Lucky Strike cigarettes and riding in the bed of a pickup truck.

“I love nostalgia, I collect nostalgia,” he said. “However, for me, the health of my fellow friends and neighbors is more important.”

[For the Record 3/8/13 1:55 p.m.: An earlier version of this post said the South Coast Air Quality Management District would consider whether fire rings should be exempt from the state's wood-burning devices regulations. The SCAQMD is a regional agency and its regulations do not have authority statewide]

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--Jill Cowan, from San Diego

Photo: People gather around a fire ring in Corona del Mar. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.

 
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