Despite Newport Beach’s request to remove them, 60 fire rings at Big Corona Beach and near the Balboa Pier should keep burning, the California Coastal Commission's staff said in a report Friday.
Staff recommends leaving the 27 rings at Big Corona Beach and the 33 near the Balboa Pier in place because stamping them out would deny the public’s access to a “popular form of lower cost public recreation,” according to the report. Denying the removal of the fire rings will also prevent setting a precedent that could lead to removal of beach fire rings from other parts of the coast, the report said.
The Coastal Commission will vote on the fire ring issue at its March 6 meeting in San Diego.
The topic heated up last year when opinions flared on both sides of the controversy, resulting in thousands of community members weighing in on the fire rings at public hearings, writing letters to city officials and signing online petitions.
City officials argue the 60 fire rings should be removed because they present health and fire risks to nearby residents, as well as safety risks to beachgoers and residents who could be burned by hot ash from improperly-extinguished fires. Supporters argue the fire rings help make memories and are a large part of the beach lifestyle.
While some people can suffer health effects from wood smoke, the Commission staff report states, Newport Beach "has not demonstrated that the wood smoke from the city’s beach fire rings are directly responsible for a public health problem."
"The fire rings provide the opportunity for the quintessential Southern California beach experience – grilling a meal, toasting marshmallows, telling stories, strumming on a guitar, singing songs, celebrating special occasions like family reunions, birthdays, anniversaries and baptisms," the report reads.
Newport Beach Mayor Keith Curry said Monday he disagrees with the recommendation by Coastal Commission staff.
"I am disappointed the Coastal Commission would substitute its judgement for that of the city on a matter involving the health and safety of our residents," Curry told Patch.
Resident Colleen Kearfott, who lives on Oceanfront, lent her support to the fire rings and says she doesn't want to see them go.
"The fire pits that are literally right outside my home, I will be very upset when they remove them and hope that they don't," Kearfott wrote on the online petition savethepits.com. "I have lived here for over three years and do not have one complaint to make. And I also have two young children and do not fear their safety."
Do you agree with the California Coastal Commission's staff recommendation? Tell us in the comments.