Cleaner Fire Pits May Burn in Laguna

Bring your own wood may become a thing of the past at beach fire pits.
Bring your own wood may become a thing of the past at beach fire pits.

Wood-burning bonfires at Aliso Beach in South Laguna may be a thing of the past as fire pits up the coast switch to cleaner-burning propane or natural gas.

According to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, two contracts to install clean-burning fire pits for public use are being considered for beaches from Corona del Mar to Bolsa Chica in Huntington Beach.  The two-year contracts are up for approval at the Dec. 6 SCAQMD board meeting.

“They probably will be installed here (at Aliso),” said Lisa Leighton, Laguna Beach resident and chief executive of Corona’s Earth’s Flame, one of the proposed contractors.  “But I think this first phase, the test, will be from Corona del Mar north.” Leighton said she understood that 30 fire pits on public beaches are proposed for the change to nonpolluting fuel.

Steve Bonhall, a manager with the Orange County Parks Dept., said changing the pits at Aliso is being discussed by the county’s Board of Supervisors since SCAQMD’s plan was announced but he hasn’t gotten any word about a decision yet.

Air quality regulators called for an alternative to curb the pollution that’s emitted from burning wood.  At a cost not to exceed $300,000 each, the committee selected two companies, Earth’s Flame and Blazing Design in Vermont, to design either new types of fire rings or retrofit existing ones with devices that would curtail smoke emissions.

Leighton, whose company installs low-emission home fireplaces, and Mike Van Buren of Blazing Design both said they submitted proposals to remove the existing concrete-ringed fire pits and replace them with a new gas-fueled design.  Details of the contract will be disclosed next Friday.

Beach fire rings are a first for both companies.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever heard of a propane or natural-gas fire pit where the general public can come up and use it,” said Van Buren, who’s been designing and installing fire pits for at least 10 years. “There’s certainly plenty of them in resorts and ski lodges and beach resorts but they’re mostly used by the guests.”

Wood is not being considered due to complaints from nearby residents about the bonfires’ smoke, according to reports.  To compare, fireplaces and other wood-burning devices are used in about 1.2 million homes in the Southland and they emit an average of five tons of harmful fine particulate pollutants each day, according to the SCAQMD.  When fireplace and woodstove use is at their peak from November to February, more than 10 tons of fine particulate pollutants are emitted each day, nearly seven times the daily amount of fine particulates emitted from all of the power plants in the Southland, the SCAQMD reported.

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