Guest Opinion: Save Our Firepits

Billy Fried

Calling all families, friends, colleagues, and lovers of the flame, we are in danger of losing our beloved Aliso Beach firepits – forever. If you haven’t noticed, they’re already gone. Now we have one shot at reclaiming them – this Tuesday at City Council. We need you to show up (or call in) and voice your support for wood-burning fire rings – just as we’ve enjoyed over countless generations. It’s one of the things that makes living here special and one of the reasons the human species evolved from the Stone to the Bronze Age. But now we are at risk of devolving into the Nanny Age.

It’s been amazing how quiet our community has been amidst the quiet dissembling of our beloved rings. I’m not certain we knew what hit us. It was so gradual. It all started last year under the county’s jurisdiction. One by one, they started disappearing. Were they swallowed by the storm surges? Or did the county quietly move them to their other beaches when they knew they were handing over control to our city in the coming year? No one knows because they’ve been mum. All we know is those beloved, cultural icons that have spawned lifetimes of magic memories – and perhaps even a few babies – are gone, and there is pressure to make them permanent. The fire department would, of course, rather do away with them, citing fire safety and the fear that some rogue windstorm will send a spark across Coast Highway and into a hillside home. It’s their job to say no to any open fire reflexively. But if we are concerned about beach safety, we better fence the shoreline, too, because a shark may come ashore and nab a child.

I get that wood-burning fireplaces in new construction have been banned because of the overall air quality impact. But open firepits by the ocean? The South Coast Air Quality Management District Board tried banning South County beach pits 10 years ago and was roundly repudiated by angry citizens and mayors. It came about after a few wealthy beachfront homeowners in Newport complained about smoke. Those nearby firepits were switched to charcoal only, and the rest stayed put. Problem solved!

So, for those of you keeping score at home, Orange County currently has 838 public fire rings. From north to south: Bolsa Chica 176, Huntington Beach 357, Newport Beach 63, Dana Point 44, Capistrano Beach 4, San Clemente 194, but little Laguna Beach, zilch. Yep, we are bidding for Nanny State Award of the Year!

Fire rings have been around longer than any of us, and there is no record of a firestorm being caused by them. It is one of the great things about beachgoing at night – the hypnotic flames, glow of the embers, the crackling sounds, the stars overhead and the waves crashing, and above all, the warmth. I doubt many could spend time on the beach at night without them. And it’s free and open to everyone. That’s a rarity in our profit-driven culture today.

When the city of Laguna announced they were taking over jurisdiction and operations of our southern beaches from the county, we all applauded local control. We knew our Marine Safety staffing was second to none and that more swimmers would be safe. We knew that local ownership meant better stewardship of the land. But never in our wildest dreams did we think we’d lose more of our precious freedoms to recreate and gather on our public land, the ones we finance through our taxes.

Please join me and say yes to the firepits at Aliso Beach. Preserve a cherished tradition. Do your part by speaking out and letting the council know how special they are to you. You can watch from home on the city website and call in via Zoom. You can track when the motion is heard by viewing the agenda at Click on City Council and then Meeting Agendas. But by far, the most effective way to have your voice heard is to show up and tell the council what those few firepits mean to you. It’s number 16 on the agenda so will be heard later in the evening. In the immortal words of Eminem, “You only get one shot, do not miss this chance to blow, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime, yo.”

Billy is the CEO of La Vida Laguna, an outdoor adventure company, and the host of “Laguna Talks” on KXFM radio – Thursdays at 8 p.m. Email: [email protected].

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  1. If there are no fire pits look what people have done here at Aliso Beach…..collect driftwood or bring in their own wood and create a fire anywhere along the sand. At least with fire pits the burn debris are somewhat contained and not spread among the sand people walk on. Burnt wood chips/charcoal bits in the sand is not fun, also it makes the beach appear dirty.

  2. Billy, I fought for clean air in Newport Beach 10 years ago, and the problem wasn’t solved. You seem to be aware that smoke from wood fires harms overall air quality, except you believe your beach fire shouldn’t count. Angry citizens and the mayors they elect don’t make the reality not real. There’s little doubt that particulates in wood smoke are harmful to human health. While wood fires have been around since the stone age, would you rather your cancer surgery be done In a cave?

  3. I’d rather have wood burning than fossil fuel burning, cancer causing propane fire pits, which is what the city is considering as an alternative. There’s always unintended consequences. Take away a mere 6 firepits among 836 in Orange County and the only thing you’ve accomplished is removing joy and comfort for so many people who use the fire for celebration, ceremony, and warmth. There is an epidemic of loneliness and lack of connection and community in our society. For me that is way more harmful for human health than 6 firepits by the sea.

  4. Billy, it took a few days for my comment to post; at this point, no one’s looking so it’s just a conversation. I can’t help but gasp at your comment about unintended consequences. Only six fire pits? The South Coast Air Quality Management District put monitors at Big Corona and they found the “particulate emission rate per minute from one beach bonfire was equal to that of the secondhand smoke from 800 cigarettes. Wood smoke contains many of the same toxic chemicals as secondhand cigarette smoke”. I have the receipts if you need them. I agree, propane isn’t a great solution. For the need for joy and comfort and the epidemic of loneliness, we might look for other opportunities that aren’t quite so toxic.

  5. Wood burning creates some of the most polluted air imaginable. With California leading the way to cleaner air, this would be a logical step in the path. To me there is nothing worse than going to the beach to enjoy a sunset and finding I can’t breathe because of the smoke. I am glad to see the firepits go away!

  6. I support the return of the firepits, they are a part of our history and so meaningful. 35 year resident and support the return.

  7. That’s a great idea: no fire before sunset (which nobody does anyway). I would support that. But no one hangs at the beach at night without them.


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