Council To Vote on Fire Rings Same Night As Persian New Year Celebrations

posted: March 9th, 2012 07:12 am | 11Comments

The Newport Beach City Council on Tuesday will decide whether the city should remove 60 beach fire rings because of health and safety concerns — the same night that thousands of visitors at Big Corona State Beach will be marking the Persian New Year with a ritual jump across a blazing fire.

The City Council in September asked that the Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission study beach fire rings and make a recommendation about whether they should be removed. On Feb. 7, the commissioners voted 4-3 for removal.

The rings at Big Corona State Beach annually draw thousands of visitors celebrating Persian New Year with food, family reunions and bonfires. Jumping over a flame cleanses the jumper by giving sickness to the fire and is an ancient tradition based on a story of an old Persian king, last year’s participants said; read our story here.

The fires are fine for once-a-year visitors enjoying Persian New Year or a scouting event, several opponents have said. But the year-round smoke is a health hazard for nearby residents, many have told city officials.

“Nineteen members of the public (at last month’s parks commission meeting) spoke in favor of removing the fire rings and cited health related concerns including child safety, air quality hazards related to smoke, the presence of toxic fumes, burning embers floating in the air, the burning of hazardous materials in the rings, Air Quality Management District restrictions that now ban fireplaces in new housing developments as a result of burning wood impacts, and the related risks of cancer,” according to a staff report included with the agenda. “No members of the public spoke in favor of retaining the fire rings.”

The Council will consider the commission’s recommendation and then give direction to staff, who would have to obtain coastal permits and work with the California Coastal Commission before removing any pits.

Big Corona State Beach has 27 concrete fire rings, and the Balboa Pier area has 33 rings. If the rings are removed, clean up would include cleaning the sand and minor backfilling to restore the beach surface, the staff report states.

City officials have received numerous letters and emails, some saying that the fire rings should stay.

“The Fire Rings have been a part of this Beach community and many Family’s memories for the last 60 years,” Corona del Mar resident Mark Simon wrote in an email. “I dare say that all of the folks that voiced their opinion against the Fire Rings knew full well they were there at the Beach when the bought or leased their affected properties.”

Other letter and email writers said the rings should be removed because of the smoke and mess. One letter from the Breakers Drive Homeowners Association president, Daniel J. Leonard, said that homeowners who lived near the beach were concerned about smoke causing illnesses, soot and dirty air, children being hurt on hot ashes and crime.

“The fire rings attract individuals who are involved in gang activities and their sole purpose is to cause trouble including fights requiring police response,” he wrote. “Now is the time to clean our air, not only for local residents but also for all people enjoying the beaches.”

A staff report presented to the parks commissioners stated that other options, such as limiting fuel to cleaner-burning sources like Duraflame logs or limiting the hours that fires are permitted.

One commissioner suggested looking into whether the fire rings could be converted to gas, and another commissioner suggested an air quality study be conducted before the rings were banned.

Council members first discussed banning fire rings 2009 but tabled the discussion because it was taking too much staff time when budget concerns were a growing problem. In September 2011, Mayor Nancy Gardner suggested that the parks commission reexamine the rings, partly because of a claim filed against Huntington Beach after a boy was burned at a fire ring there.

At one point, a Facebook group in support of keeping the fire rings had more than 1,800 members. Facebook retired the group, and a new version currently has 18 members, including this reporter who joined the group to learn about updates.

“What can I can say?” said the group’s creator, Nadine Turner, when asked about the fire rings’ future. “The NIMBY’s are going to get their way and the old Newport is sliding away.”

The Corona del Mar Residents Association board discussed fire rings at its February meeting, deciding the issue needed more public input; read our story here.

Read our earlier stories on the fire ring controversy here, here and here.

11 Responses to “Council To Vote on Fire Rings Same Night As Persian New Year Celebrations”


Barbara Peters

March 9th, 2012

NIMBY's? It seems widely known and accepted that even short-term exposure to wood smoke can trigger asthma attacks, acute bronchitis, and heart attacks. Everyone should have access to the beach, including those who have respiratory disabilities. Come, play, enjoy... but please don't create a poison barrier that keeps others away.


March 9th, 2012

SOLUTION OPTIONS: Please note the first three options involve both a removal and/or reduction of fire rings AND closing the beach at sunset. Keep in mind that during the summer this means closing the beach at approximately 8:30 PM instead of 10 PM. A slightly earlier closing time would have minimal impact on beach or fire rings users, but most people will have exited the beach and surrounding neighborhoods by dark. Winter closing would be substantially earlier, with a corresponding saving on staffing costs, while still limiting impact on beach users. 1. REMOVE ALL THE FIRE RINGS AND CLOSE THE BEACH AT SUNSET. This solves the issues of smoke, potential injury, reduces late night crowds, and reduces City costs of lifeguard, police and maintenance staffing. There is an established State Park precedent for closing State beaches at sunset. This option has the greatest impact on all beach users, but primarily on non-resident summer and winter weekend users of the fire rings. 2. LEAVE ALL THE FIRE RINGS AND CLOSE THE BEACH AT SUNSET. People can still have day and evening use of the fire rings and the late evening impact to the neighborhood is reduced. Summertime beach closing would change from 10 PM to approximately 8:30 PM, with winter closing ranging from 6:30 PM to 4:30 PM in December. This solution may avoid Coastal Commission entanglement and can be accomplished with an ordinance modification. It does not reduce city maintenance costs. A 1 to 3 hour reduction in lifeguard and police manpower should be possible. 3. REDUCE THE FIRE RINGS TO ONE ROW OF 10 AND CLOSE THE BEACH AT SUNSET. This compromise solution allows some retention of fire rings (reduction from 27 to 10) while providing a reduced smoke and toxic impact on downwind residents. Closing the beach retains the above stated benefits to the city and surrounding neighborhood. 3. REDUCE THE FIRE RINGS TO ONE ROW OF TEN AND LIMIT THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE AT EACH ONE TO 20. This still has up to 200 people on the beach until after 10 PM at night, but would be a substantial reduction in numbers from the current situation where as many as 1,000 people are exiting the beach in the dark. This solution would require some type of additional enforcement action, possibly a reservation system whereby large groups would need to reserve multiple fire rings or possibly need to obtain special use permits similar to when a large group uses a city park. The city would see some savings in reduced maintenance costs. Lifeguard and police staffing would remain the same. It does not solve the crime problem. 4. RELOCATE THE FIRE RINGS TO CRYSTAL COVE OR NEWPORT PIER. This option would require the cooperation of the Crystal Cove Park, which is not utilized after sunset, and yet has ample parking and locations where smoke and crowd impact would be minimal as there are no nearby residential areas. The Newport Pier option would result in a situation similar to the Balboa Pier. 5. STOP FUNDING THE FIRE RINGS. (Remove and close the beach at sunset.) This solution could potentially save the City several hundred thousand dollars a year that is currently spent on maintenance and law enforcement. GRAFFITTI AND CRIME: Big Corona is a magnet for graffiti, removal of which is a large expense for the City. Allowing people on the beach after dark exacerbates the problem by providing the cover of darkness for taggers. I have heard third hand discussion from local residents who allegedly heard from the PD that gang drug trafficking has/is occurring at the fire rings. Gangs bring coolers full of dope and exchange them at the fire rings under the cover of a beach outing and darkness. I cannot verity that. TIMES HAVE CHANGED: When the fire rings were installed the LA Basin had a total population of little over 1 million. It is now 20 million and growing. There is simply too many people, and the problem will only get worse. Action needs to be taken now before things get completely out of hand. Where previously small family groups used the fire rings, now oftentimes they are used by large groups. Some such as churches and community organizations are well behaved, other ad-hoc groups are occasionally less well behaved and create occasional police and enforcement problems. BBQ’s: In addition to removing fire rings some provision will need to be made to limit the scope of LARGE GROUPS: Many moderate and large groups ranging from Boy Scouts to Churches to school parties use the fire rings on a regular basis. Sometimes these groups bring hundreds of people. PERSIAN NEW YEAR: This spontaneous event is not planned or sponsored by anyone. As many as 5,000 people show up unannounced at the beach for an impromptu celebration which in part consists of extremely dangerous acts of jumping over the fires as part of a “cleansing” ritual. This unsanctioned event costs the taxpayers of Newport Beach considerable money in police, fire and lifeguard costs and is an incredible inconvenience to residents for blocks around as the party goers exit the beach AFTER 10 pm with stragglers still in the area until after midnight. One advantage of closing the beach at sunset is it allows police a better opportunity to staff and enforce the closing time. Because the police often, especially on weekends have numerous calls for service due to party noise and disturbances right around 10PM this closing time spreads the staff too thin. LATE NITE ILLEGAL USE – CLOSE THE BEACH AT SUNSET: Since the Parks meeting there have been people on the beach after hours almost every single night. The NBPD officer at the Planning Commission stated that the police dept was not staffed to close the beaches on time and that often priority calls required the officer to leave the beach unenforced until after 10pm. The beach is never cleared in the summer before 10:30 and often not until 11pm. The PD needs to start clearing the beach at 9:30 so the people are out by 10. Big Corona is a State Beach. Many if not most other State beaches close at sunset. Crystal Cove and Gaviota beaches come to mind. The simple solution is to close Big Corona at dusk. There is State park precedent for this. SMOKING ON THE BEACH VS SMOKE ON THE BEACH: Cigarette smoking is not allowed on the beach, yet the City allows smoky beach fires, which have been proven to be many times more toxic and unhealthy. Obviously this is an untenable double standard. BALBOA PIER: Big Corona and Balboa Pier are separate issues and should be separate decisions. The Balboa Pier is a well lit commercial zone designed to handle large numbers of people, as is the Newport Pier zone. Corona del Mar is a residential neighborhood; it was not designed to handle the huge numbers of people of recent years, crowds ranging from several hundred to several thousand people leaving the beach in the dark, on unlit streets late at night. MEMORIES: Times have changed. It is no longer the 1950’s when my family first enjoyed summer beach fires here. Yes, there have been a lifetime of memories made at the Big Corona fire rings, and probably a few babies. But like the annual 4th of July war, with the much larger population inland it has just become too much to control - by the police department’s own admission. Now often as not huge groups of people take over the fire rings. Where there used to be a family cooking marshmallows, now there are sometimes a 100 standing around each fire ring. In the 70’s we had fun, now we have street gangs and graffiti problems and a thousand people. CHILD SAFETY: For years I have expressed concerns over child safety with the large number of people leaving the beach in the dark late at night with the ensuing confusion. All it is going to take is one kid getting kidnapped, or getting the wrong car by accident or getting lost in the dark and drowning and the City is going to be in deep trouble for failing to take action after many warnings. COST: How much do the fire rings cost Newport Beach taxpayers? Trash, repair, cops. I am not aware of any law that requires Newport Beach taxpayers to provide specific recreational facilities to non-residents. USAGE: 95%, maybe 99% of the people using Big Corona and the fire rings are not Newport Beach residents. NO TOURIST INCOME: The people using the fire rings do not bring income to CDM. They fill their coolers at home, they bring their firewood from home, they fill their gas tanks at home. Their beach outings benefit their inland communities, not CDM or Newport Beach, and all they bring is their traffic and noise and all they leave is their trash. Let’s have an honest poll of Residents – I’ve asked for this for many years – but NOBODY will answer the question - how many local residents have used the fire rings at Big Corona in the past year, 5 years? How many have gone swimming at Big Corona after dark, ever? Virtually none, that is how many. There is no reason whatsoever to have the beach open after dark. OCEAN OVERWASHING – SAFETY: Let’s talk about public safety – the rising ocean is overwashing the fire rings several times a year. Last summer the fire pits were overwashed twice by large surf when hundreds of people were on the beach. “Google” Big Corona images and you can find photos of this. This is a danger as hundreds of people try to run from the water and collect their stuff. This will only get worse as the oceans rise.


March 9th, 2012

I totalllllllly read you whole post Jamie,


March 9th, 2012

Jamie, I took the time to read your entire dissertation, and I would say that you laid it all out very well. The only thing I might question is the closing time of Huntington State Beach, which I thought was 10pm during summer. Though, I could be wrong. I am not a NB resident, but I do sympathize with NB residents on this issue. Yes, times have changed, but it's even more than the fact that there are hordes of inlanders coming to the beaches. It is that people in our current culture, in general, refuse to govern THEMSELVES. And when people refuse to keep control of themselves with respect to the law and to civility, government is forced to do it for them. The result is that we have harsher government responses to this debauchery, and law-abiding citizens suffer, too. So be it. The safety and security of the residents should come first. Therefore, IF what it takes is to dismantle the pits and close beaches at sunset, it should be done without hesitation.


March 9th, 2012

Sorry the blog site strips formatting, the entire (properly formatted and slightly updated) report was delivered today to the City Clerk's office and will be available in printed form at the Council Meeting. Be sure to read it.


March 9th, 2012

Jamie got it right. In my 48 years in CdM, I went to the big beach only for foamers, the offshore power boat races, running on the beach. Never at night or for the fire rings.

Mark D Simon

March 10th, 2012

We use the Fire Pits about 4 times per year, and it is always at Sunset and after dark. It would make no sense to use them during the day. I think it is a pretty bigoted outlook to say the Fire Pits should be closed because "it attracts the wrong elements and people from outside Newport Beach." I also feel those that live near the Fire Pits knew full well they were there when they moved in. The only fair solution is to reduce the number of Fire Pits. Not to restrict the number of people who can acces each Pits or c;lose the Beach earlier. Access to the Beach belongs to every one.

Barbara Peters

March 10th, 2012

Mark, when we bought our home 14 years ago, the health risks of wood smoke were not well known. It was only in 2008 that the AQMD adopted Rule 445 to ban new permanently installed indoor and outdoor wood burning devices, because of the risk of premature death and respiratory/heart diseases that result from exposure to wood smoke. Over half a century ago, when these rings were put here, the surgeon general hadn't even published the warning on tobacco smoke. Now, studies show that wood smoke is more carcinogenic than second hand tobacco smoke and even short term exposure has risks. So please understand that sometimes things need to change as our knowlege of human health grows. And I highly agree that access to the beach belongs to everyone, even those with respiratory or cardiac disabilities..


March 12th, 2012

I have been a resident and home owner in CdM for over 14 years, and the fire pits are a part of the charm. My family loves the fires rings for YoungLife, Boy Scouts and family fun. I can't understand why public beaches are under fire from locals who have very limited use of the area. I was a part of Nadine's Save CdM Fire rings on Facebook and I stand by keeping them. I also run at night and I have never felt unsafe running on the beach past the crowds at the fire rings during the summer.

Walter Buchhagen

March 13th, 2012

Political correctness and CYA run amok! The fire rings have been a fixture on Big Corona FOR MANY YEARS. 99.99% of those who say they are affected by the smoke, embers, etc., moved in when the fire rings were already there. Now, they want to push this through City Council for their own selfish reasons. If they don't like it, MOVE! If they had their way, they'd install land mines and Concertina wire to keep people off "their beach"! lol City Council, don't cave in to these NIMBY-oriented, self-centered people!

Walter Buchhagen

March 13th, 2012

@ Jamie: If your solutions are carried to their logical conclusions: KEEP THE BEACHES CLOSED 24/7 THEN THERE WILL BE NO RISKS FROM ANYTHING BAD HAPPENING TO ANYONE. And, we won't know what's in your proposed beach restrictions until the resulting NB city ordinance is implemented. (Sound familiar?)

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