Newport Beach fire rings: Smoke hazard or smokescreen? (Photos)

The California Coastal Commission's report recommends that the City of Newport Beach not remove the beach fire pits.
The California Coastal Commission's report recommends that the City of Newport Beach not remove the beach fire pits.
California Coastal Commission

Listen to story

Download this story 1.0MB

There are 732 fire rings in Orange County, but none have sparked a hotter fight as the 60 near the Balboa Pier and along Corona del Mar State Beach.

Newport Beach has been trying to remove the popular fire rings that line its beaches for more than a year. It says the smoke is a health hazard.

Homeowners who live downwind from the rings worry they’re inhaling toxic smoke. One resident wrote: “We don’t let people smoke cigarettes on the beach for health and safety reasons. How can we continue to allow the fire rings?”

The city submitted letters to the California Coastal Commission from doctors, toxicologists, environmentalists and a Stanford engineer who warned that, depending on the weather, breathing smoke from beach fires could be equivalent to smoking a pack or more of cigarettes .

“When we discovered the health concerns, that became a big issue,” said Nancy Gardner, who sits on the Newport Beach City Council, which voted unanimously last March to tear down the rings . “For some people because there is constant smoke they can’t use the beach because it triggers an asthma attack, and residents nearby are exposed to constant wood smoke.”

But the commission is expected to deny the city’s request Wednesday.

In a report recommending denial of Newport Beach’s request to remove the fire rings, commission staffers not so subtlety accuse Newport Beach of using smoke as a smokescreen, trying to keep not-so-wealthy outsiders from enjoying the beach. Read the commission's report below.

“We believe that the fire rings are an important lower cost amenity,” said Teresa Henry, District Manager for the coastal commission.

The report notes that the fire rings are free, have been used by families for generations, and should be protected under the California Coastal Act, which stipulates: “lower cost visitor and recreational facilities shall be protected” and “encouraged.”

“Many families, especially from the inland areas, are coming from great distances and rely on the fire rings as an affordable way to see their families,” Henry said.

If the city is so concerned about smoke, it should spread the fire rings farther apart, Henry said.

Joining the commission staff are the thousands of beach visitors who signed an online petition to keep the fire rings. They argue they're an “essential part of Southern California beach culture” and stand for a tradition that everyone should have the chance to experience for years to come.

The coastal commission is expected to vote on the issue at its meeting in San Diego on Wednesday.

California Coastal Commission: Newport Beach Fire Rings Report by