Southern CA ‘Bonfire of the vanities’

July 11, 2013

By Katy Grimes


Whenever environmental or social justice activists want something banned, they create a health or safety reason supporting their policy.

This is the case with the attempt by the South Coast Air Quality Management District to ban fire rings and bonfires on Southern California beaches.

‘Bonfire of the Vanities’ refers to the burning of objects that are deemed to be occasions of sin. With beach bonfires, they are occasions of joy, happiness, family and friends. Apparently occasions of joy, happiness, family and friends are offensive to some.

Say goodbye to beach bonfires – and memories

The SCQMD proposed amendments to Rule 444, which would ban open burning in beach areas.

“The fire rings have been an important part of our beach experience for over 60 years,”  ‘Save the Southern California Beach Bonfire Rings’ explains on its website and Facebook page. “They provide an affordable means of gathering family and friends on Southern California shores to celebrate our outdoor beach lifestyle with s’mores and hotdog roasting under the stars, all while enjoying the glow of a warm fire.”

So why would anyone want to put an end to this wholesome, inexpensive, family fun?

There are several reasons. But the primary reason really driving the bonfire ban is area home owners. Those who live along the ocean don’t like the crowds, and have complained to local officials about the noise from the night time bonfires. Even though they bought the property knowing it was attached to publicly accessed beaches, homeowners have demanded government regulators ban the fire pits to keep people off the beaches at night.

And that’s how it always works. Regulations anymore are rarely about real health or safety issues, and almost always are sponsored by special interest groups seeking to either kill a competitive business, or by a group of people wishing to limit the activities and rights of others.

However, that  makes the home owners look as if they are being spoiled whiners. So they got the American Lung Association to claim the fire pits are a health hazard.
“’Fire rings are creating hazards in communities that are damaging to one’s health and to the health of residents who live nearby,’ said Bonnie Holmes-Gen, senior director for policy and advocacy for the American Lung Association in California,” a recent story at explained.

“We’re very concerned about the impact of the smoke, … and it contributes to asthma attacks, strokes, a number of respiratory illnesses, and it can even cause premature death.”

The Wood Smoke Health website, “advocates for clean air,” concurs.

This is a real “are you kidding me?” moment.

To answer the absurdity, as well as the loss of a treasured beach activity, Assemblyman Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach, introduced ACR 52, honoring California’s beach lifestyle, and supportive of continuing access to California’s beaches and the enjoyment of beach bonfires in fire rings.

Allen is a resident of Huntington Beach and a surfer. “I am honored to commemorate California’s beaches and access to those beaches,” Allen said after introducing his resolution. “Activities such as beach bonfires are a beloved pastime that is a safe and inexpensive recreational activity enjoyed by all the members of our community. I look forward to joining my fellow legislators in honoring our beaches and the timeless community pastimes that our beaches provide.”

Environmental justice

Bonfires on the beach are one of the remaining low-cost activities for Southern California beach visitors. But the bonfire ban has a long history thanks to the fairly recent bans on stove and fireplace fires. SCAQMD’s Rule 444, “Wood-burning Devices & Open Burning,” also names the pesky wood fires are an unsafe and dangerous activity. It was natural for the environmental justice crowd to eventually go after beach bonfires.

Sacramento banned the use of fireplaces on “spare the air” days, and encourages neighbors to rat out their wood-burning neighbors. This is particularly stupid given that Sacramento is located on two massive rivers and the Delta, and enjoys daily breezy winds and the famous “Delta Breeze.”

In Sacramento we suffer from allergies thanks to the abundant agricultural valley in which we live; wood fires, not so much.

Ironic is the silence from the environmental justice crowd about the very real health and safety issues from wildfires – a subject rarely addressed by the Environmental Protection Agency, air quality districts, or environmental justice seekers.

Loss of revenue

The state and local governments earn significant revenue from beach visitors.

Banning bonfires has the potential to cut $1 million annually from parking revenue for the City of Huntington Beach.

The California State Parks of Orange County receives more than 11.9 million visitors annually, resulting in $19 million dollars in revenue.

A survey by the California State Parks found they could lose as much as 50 percent of the current revenue from camping, if bonfires and fire rings are banned.

“The negative economic impact on the many hoteliers, restaurateurs, grocery, retail and concessions that rely on visitor spending would be astounding. This does not even include the impact it would have on cities such as Newport Beach, Dana Point, and Los Angeles,” the petition to stop the SCAQMD from banning bonfires says.

Beach bonfire cheerleader

Allen has been hosting bonfires on most weekends for the community, to bring more focus to California beaches and the local community in Huntington Beach.

“California has a wonderful history and beach culture that is deeply woven into our communities, especially in Southern California,” said Assemblyman Allen. “Beach bonfires are an essential part of the beach lifestyle that has helped define California around the world.  ACR 52 further highlights a lifestyle that has brought people together for generations.”

The SCAQMD will vote on the regulations for the Southern California beach bonfires, and many bonfire supporters will be in attendance — Friday, July 12 at 9:00 a.m., at the SCAQMD Headquarters, 21865 Copley Drive, Diamond Bar, CA 91765.


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  1. Bob Dolezal
    Bob Dolezal 11 July, 2013, 09:49

    The American Lung Association’s misleading statements discredit and detract from that organization’s reputation and history of service, making them a flack for false science. The health effects of short-term (several hours) exposure to PM2.5 from beach fire ring smoke have not been scientifically established. SCAQMD has presented NO evidence that beach fire ring smoke has harmed any SCAB residents. A recent California Department of Public Health Report on Wildfire Smoke ( states “There are no directly relevant epidemiological or controlled human exposure studies that offer guidance in the selection of particulate matter levels with averaging times less than 24 hours…”

    Reply this comment
  2. Hondo
    Hondo 11 July, 2013, 09:55

    In my stupid youth back in the 70’s my friends and I would camp at San Onofre state beach and surf all day and drink and get stoned all night by the light of the beach bonfires. One time this one dude who was around 25 y/o with about 15, 10y/o young boys was camping next to us. He came over and got drunk and stoned with us as the kids ran wild on the beach. I asked him whats up with all the kids. He said he as a Boy Scout troop leader as he handed the joint back to me. He said the rest of the parents were too busy to take the kids out. He’d been a boy scout in the same troop and was devoted to the kids. He left our party a few minutes before the state troopers descended on our bonfire and took all of our beer, for none of us were 21 yet. The troopers never did find our pot. This is a true story. I can’t make this stuff up.
    Maybe they are right to extinguish the bonfires. But I have fond memories of those bonfires on the beach.

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  3. CalWatchdog
    CalWatchdog Author 12 July, 2013, 16:28

    The SCAQMD voted today to ban beach bonfires. Here is Assemblyman Travis Allen’s response:

    “The South Coast AQMD has clearly overstepped its bounds. This is the case of an unelected body of bureaucrats ignoring the voice of the people. The SCAQMD voted today to ban certain beach bonfires to appease a small group of wealthy landowners at the expense of ordinary Californians.

    This issue has been met with overwhelming opposition from thousands of Californians, countless elected officials, and local cities and businesses. Together with Senator Mimi Walters and Assemblymen Allan Mansoor and Curt Hagman, I submitted a California Public Records Act Request letter on June 5th regarding the methodology of the SCAQMD’s highly questionable air quality test. To date, we still have not received a response. Their decision today was based on inconclusive data that claimed that beach bonfires pose a health risk.

    The decision made today directly challenges the recommendations of the California Coastal Commission and unilaterally bans certain fire rings. The verdict also overlooks the Resolution unanimously passed by the California Legislature which officially calls for protecting our state beaches and the timeless community pastime of beach bonfires for all Californians,” said Assemblyman Allen.


    Reply this comment
  4. Queeg
    Queeg 12 July, 2013, 19:58

    People in Corona Del Mar have homes up to ten million near the Druid bonfires…….the whole scene is disgusting…trash in streets….toxic smoke….aberrant behaviors…..

    Reply this comment

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