Newport Beach Mayor Keith Curry and Santa Ana Mayor and Air Quality Management Board Director Miguel Pulido have developed a joint recommendation to both protect the health of residents and neighborhoods adjacent to wood-burning fire pits, and to ensure the continued opportunity of all Southern Californians to enjoy the tradition of outdoor beach fires.

As recommended by the AQMD staff, the proposal would allow Newport Beach to remove all wood-burning fire rings within 700’ of homes. This distance is recommended by the AQMD on the basis of the scientific studies it conducted in Newport Beach and at other local beaches. The AQMD determined that significant levels of particulate matter (PM) are released from wood-burning fire rings causing PM levels that are higher than should be expected near homes on the Balboa Peninsula and in Corona del Mar. The studies calculated that one wood-burning fire ring, in one evening, could release PM equivalent to a diesel truck driving 564 miles. The study also found that the levels of PM from the fire rings remained high proximate to area homes (as well as to work stations where municipal employees were permanently assigned).

In order to ensure residents and visitors have the ability to continue to enjoy outdoor beach fires, the City will work with the AQMD to fund a demonstration project to install 10 fire rings fueled by sources other than wood (such as propane) at Big Corona beach and the Balboa Pier area. There will be five alternatively fueled rings at each location.

The demonstration project will last at least six months during which time the AQMD would perform additional testing. If PM emissions are shown to be relatively non-impactful following the testing period, and if safe management of the new rings is assured, the City would work with the AQMD and the Coastal Commission to make the rings permanent at those locations and would consider an appropriate expansion of the available fire rings.

The City may hire part-time staff to oversee the public’s safe use of the alternative-fuel rings, as well as establish a cost–recovery fee and reservation system to ensure safe and affordable access to the rings for all persons throughout the county and region.

Mayor Curry said, “Orange County’s representatives to the AQMD – Mayor Pulido and Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson – approached the City and asked us to consider an alternative to wood-fire as an option to the complete removal of fire rings from Newport Beach. Because our interest has always been with the health and quality of life of our residents, we have agreed to a demonstration project with alternative fuels to replace wood burning fire pits at Corona del Mar and Balboa Pier. This will allow residents and visitors to continue to enjoy fire rings, while at the same time protecting the health of our residents and employees. We support the distancing requirement proposed by the AQMD and we think it is an appropriate standard for our community. We continue to believe that every community should decide for itself the best way to address the health impacts of wood smoke and one solution should not be imposed on all communities.”

Curry added, “The air pollution data and health information developed by the AQMD responds to the request of the California Coastal Commission and accordingly, we call on the Commission to approve our request to remove the current fire rings and to authorize this demonstration project.”

Mayor Pulido noted, “The health impacts are clear, but we also need to preserve the Southern California beach experience. There are clearly instances where beach fire rings can operate with wood smoke with minimal impacts to surrounding areas, thus, the 700’ distance recommendation. In light of that, I am appreciative that Newport Beach is willing to keep important regional amenities in place and is willing to explore fueling beach fire rings with propane or natural gas. I look forward to working with the City and the AQMD to make this project a reality.”

The California Coastal Commission is set to hear Newport Beach’s request to remove the 60 wood-burning fire rings within Newport Beach at the Commissions’ July 10-12 meeting in Ventura County. The AQMD will consider the new rule for beach fires on July 12, 2013.