California's air quality watchdog will begin enforcing new restrictions on some fire pits at several L.A. and Orange County beaches Monday. The restrictions took effect on March 1st.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) says it will begin enforcing a new series of rules that limit wood-burning in fire pits within 700 feet of beachside homes.
A district spokesperson says the restrictions will help protect the air quality for beachside dwellers, without banning the practice of burning wood at SoCal fire pits. The rules will affect Newport Beach, as well as some areas of Huntington Beach, Aliso and Doheny state beaches, among others.
South Coast AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood says beaches with fire pits close to homes will have to decide whether to move the fire pits at least 700 feet from the closest home, spread the pits at least 100 feet apart from one other, or ban the use of firewood in them.
"There is no ban on beach fires and there never has been," Atwood says. "What the South Coast Air Quality Management District is doing is placing some distance restrictions to protect the air quality in the nearby areas from those beach fires."
In an ordinance passed earlier this year, Newport Beach opted to restrict its beach fire pits to burning only charcoal or natural gas. The city will also allow beachgoers to light up "lump charcoal," which Atwood says is similar to wood, but 90 percent cleaner.
The South Coast AQMD is leaving it to local governments to decide how to handle the new restrictions. Newport Beach is the only beach to have adopted an ordinance on the new measures, Atwood says.
""I don't think we're going to see officials handing out tickets at this point, but rather just trying to educate residents about the requirements, and if necessary issuing a warning."
Are clean fuel, gas fire rings in SoCal beaches' future?
Atwood tells KPCC his agency is looking into new solutions for the fire pits, including adding gas-fueled fire rings to beaches with fire pits close to area homes. The pits would be similar to the outdoor gas fire pits that many local hotels and restaurants use.
"The South Coast AQMD is working with local beaches to demonstrate a clean-fuel fire ring," he said. "Something that would use either natural gas or propane that beachgoers could enjoy and have a very clean alternative to wood burning."
Atwood says the agency is working with several prospective vendors on possible designs. Adding those type of pits to SoCal beaches would likely mean creating an underground infrastructure of piping, he acknowledged.
"We're going to be testing these out as our vendors build prototypes and of course our number one criteria is that they be safe for beachgoers to use them."
A state bill that would essentially put the restrictions on hold until they could be reviewed by the California Coastal Commission is winding its way through the state Senate.