The complaints of some homeowners about public fire rings in Newport Beach quickly morphed into a draconian proposal by regional air officials to eliminate all of the popular beach bonfire pits in Los Angeles and Orange counties. And though that proposal has since been softened, the new version still calls for removing all the rings in Newport Beach.
Although coastal homeowners shouldn't have to be continually bombarded by smoke and soot, the South Coast Air Quality Management District has not come up with a persuasive rationale for its recommendation, which so far is generating more heat than light.
The AQMD board is scheduled to vote next week on its most recent proposal, which would ban fire rings within 700 feet of homes — which happens to eliminate all of Newport Beach's 60 fire rings, as the city wants, but very few in other cities. Although at times the pollution close by the bonfires exceeds short-term standards, an AQMD study found, the exposure to pollutants is reduced by 98% at 700 feet away. But that also means the bonfires are not significant contributors to regional or even local air pollution, past the immediate area.
At the same time, the proposal would do nothing about the portable fire rings and charcoal barbecues that are allowed on or adjacent to affected beaches, or about wood-burning pits on private land. In Newport Beach, the public fire rings would be banned but not the ones that residents might set up on their beachfront patios. Is the problem smoke, or just smoke generated by beach visitors? One resident who asked for the rings to be removed wrote that only several summers after she and her husband moved in did they realize that the people using the fire pits "were NOT people who resided here in Newport Beach but visitors." Something about this doesn't smell right, and it's not the burned marshmallows.