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Newport Beach trims number of wood-burning fire pits

As concerns increase over pollution, city officials vote to eliminate more than half the wood-burning fire rings and seek to install rings that burn natural gas.

November 27, 2013|By Emily Foxhall
  • James Hughes adds fuel to a fire at Corona del Mar State Beach. Newport Beach is attempting to replace some of the fire pits with gas-burning rings to reduce pollution.
James Hughes adds fuel to a fire at Corona del Mar State Beach. Newport Beach… (Robert Gauthier, Los Angeles…)

In a step toward re-imagining the classic Southern California seaside, Newport Beach city leaders have agreed to thin out the number of fire rings that dot the city's shoreline and seek the installation of natural gas fire pits instead.

Sixty concrete fire rings on the sand in Balboa Peninsula and Corona del Mar have delighted beachgoers for decades and frustrated neighbors as everything from pizza boxes to couches went up in smoke.

But as related health concerns from the billowing smoke have increased, so has the push to rid the beach of the fire pits.

Newport Beach council members voted unanimously to eliminate more than half the wood-burning fire rings in the coming months and spread the remaining pits farther apart to reduce the smoke, which sometimes drifts into nearby homes or leaves pedestrians coughing.

And, if the South Coast Air Quality Management District's board approves a proposed demonstration project next week, gas-fueled rings will be placed near parking lots and sidewalks next to the beach.

"I find it hard to imagine the romanticism of having a fire ring next to a parking lot," said Councilman Ed Selich, suggesting that they find a way to pipe gas safely under the beach.

The AQMD said that as far as it knew, these would be the first gas-fueled rings on a California beach, although the agency is considering testing them at a second location as well.

The changes mark a compromise in the long-running debate between those who see the fire pits as nostalgic reminders of summers past and those who said they fear gulping down the carcinogenic particulate air matter floating in the smoky air.

"Is it perfect for either side? No," Councilwoman Nancy Gardner said before voting in favor of the change. "But I think it does improve the health aspects, and it still provides some of the wood-burning pits, or the fire pits, whatever we burn in them."

The fire rings will be reduced from 27 to 12 at Big Corona State Beach and from 33 to 15 on either side of the Balboa Pier.

"Let the chips fall where they may," said Councilman Tony Petros, who said that he didn't find the AQMD studies to be conclusive.

The studies compared the particle emission rates from one fire ring to that of the secondhand smoke created by 800 cigarettes.

These remaining city rings will be more heavily patrolled, perhaps by an outside agency, and only natural firewood or low-smoke logs will be permitted.

Viewed by the city as an experiment, the gas rings may one day replace the old rings entirely. An online reservation systems for users is being considered.

emily.foxhall@latimes.com

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