Environment & Science

Newport Beach to bring back wood-burning fire rings

Jerry Wymore, Paige Brown, Sabrina Fuentes, and Nick Kern of Apple Valley roast marshmallows in this June 6, 2013 file photo taken at a fire pit in Huntington Beach. The Newport Beach City Council voted Tuesday, January 13, 2014, to bring back wood-burning at at least 15 of the city's beach fire rings.
Jerry Wymore, Paige Brown, Sabrina Fuentes, and Nick Kern of Apple Valley roast marshmallows in this June 6, 2013 file photo taken at a fire pit in Huntington Beach. The Newport Beach City Council voted Tuesday, January 13, 2014, to bring back wood-burning at at least 15 of the city's beach fire rings.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Orange County could soon see the return of its popular wood-burning beach bonfires.

The Newport Beach City Council on Tuesday night voted 5-2 to approve a plan that would immediately allow wood-burning in at least 15 beach fire rings. The plan also called for staff to explore the possibility of a permanent plan that would bring back wood-burning at all 60 citywide fire rings.

It's the latest in a back-and-forth battle over beach bonfires, which supporters have said bring visitors and attract revenue and opponents have said damage the health of local community members, who are forced to breathe in the smoke.

The debate goes back to at least March 2012, when, according to a city staff report, the council voted to remove or restrict the wood-burning fire rings.

By March 2014, the South Coast Air Quality Management District had stepped in and began enforcing restrictions on the wood-burning pits within 700 feet of beachside homes.

In its recommendation to the council, the staff report claims the new plan would comply with the AQMD’s rules and was "expected to comply with the [California] Coastal Act."

According to the Orange County Register, Councilman Scott Peotter, who voted in favor of it, said the new plan would also save the city money in enforcement costs.

"The all-wood plan is not only I think most attractive to both residents and visitors, but is also the most economical," he said, according to the Register.

But opponents argued the existing charcoal-only plan was already working.

Here's more from the Register:

Councilman Keith Curry, who voted against bringing back wood fire rings, said the charcoal-only option the city has used for the past 10 months is a good compromise between tradition and protecting nearby residents’ health.

"I just think anyone who denies the health impacts, particularly given the testimony...should be ashamed of themselves," Curry said.

Councilwoman Diane Dixon was the other dissenting vote.

As part of a permanent long-term plan, the city has instructed staff to seek a permit with the California Coastal Commission to expand the number of wood-burning rings to 60 citywide, with the following breakdown:

Location # Fire Rings
Corona del Mar State Beach 18
Balboa Pier area 26 (13 on each side)
Newport Pier/North area 9
Newport Dunes 7