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In The Pipeline: Banning fire rings is overreach

March 26, 2013|By Chris Epting
  • This image, taken in Huntington Beach circa 1940, illustrates how long the fire pits have been popular there.
This image, taken in Huntington Beach circa 1940, illustrates… (Courtesy HB City…)

I did something this week I haven't done in ages. I signed a petition. For a variety of reasons, it's normally not something I do, but when I heard that there was a movement to remove all fire rings from Southern California beaches, I could not resist.

Have you heard? South Coast Air Quality Management District has proposed amendments to rule 444 that would result in the removal of all Southern California beach fire rings. The issue cropped up several years ago and recently hit a fever pitch down in Newport when some locals who live by the beach decided they'd had enough of fire rings. The smoke irritated them.

Huntington Beach Mayor Connie Boardman sent a strongly worded letter to the organization last week. It began, "I am writing in strong opposition to the amendment of Rule 444 to add beaches to the list of prohibited areas for open fire burning. Doing so will diminish the passive and affordable recreational opportunities for millions and greatly impact our local economy."

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Boardman went on to make a number of salient points regarding the economy. She also addressed the emotional attachment many locals have to the fire rings (which have been here more than 60 years) and, just as important, talked about the fact that the fire rings at Huntington Beach, unlike Newport and other cities, are in most cases located far enough from homes so that the smoke typically does not play a major part in residents' lives.

In the L.A Times last week, Sam Atwood, spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, said this: "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that smoke is unhealthy and contains many harmful pollutants — some of which can cause cancer. And it doesn't take a costly scientific study to tell you that dozens of these fires in close proximity create very unhealthy levels of smoke for anyone near them, and for residents downwind."

But Mr. Atwood, don't you think it would take some sort of study to back up your noticeably biased argument that the smoke levels are automatically considered to be unhealthy to the point of requiring a ban? What is your methodology? Do you factor in wind? Distance from homes? Vastness of beach? How can you treat all beachside cities as if they are the same? You don't think that before banning all fire rings in all Southern California cities, you owe the public at least a trace of evidence that they are really causing any sort of measurable harm? And what of the economic losses?

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