REGION — Wood burning fires are no longer permitted at five state beaches in San Diego County.
According to San Diego Coast District Superintendent Robin Greene of the California Department of Parks and Recreation, the beaches include Carlsbad State Beach (at Ponto and Tamarack), Cardiff, Leucadia and San Elijo state beaches. The policy was announced on June 1.
“There has been discussion of doing something about the huge safety violations we have because of the beach fires, the ground fires and the illegal fires,” Greene said.
The new policy, according to Greene, is intended to prevent injuries and reduce beach debris. She said the amount of nails, hot coals and debris scattered over the beaches forced the state to intervene.
In fact, Greene said the State Parks have been discussing banning wood fires for years. She said numerous reports of third-degree burns from buried coals, impalements from nails, debris and the discoloration of the beaches forced the state’s hand.
“There has been much consideration on the topic and the safety hazards are more serious than the general public realizes,” Greene said. “The change is actually minor but it will result in major improvements at all the state beaches. The hot coal and nail hazards are not visible, nor preventable except by altering how people make their beach bonfires. Those daytime visitors who are being injured, sometimes seriously, have done nothing wrong except think they could walk out to the beach in sandals or barefooted and experience their beaches safely.”
The two beaches in Carlsbad, especially South Ponto, were the most egregious concerning illegal fires and debris left behind. Greene said the department even provided bins for coals, but some would bury the hot briquettes instead, which could remain white-hot for days.
The Junior Lifeguard Program, which is held at South Ponto, spends 30 to 45 minutes each day picking up nails and debris.
“We have a number of injuries … we almost know how many nails are in a pallet,” she added. “It’s not an easy thing to deal with. The rangers make a lot of contact around the beach.”
Enforcement, meanwhile, is also a challenge, Greene said as State Park lifeguards and rangers are much fewer in number against the population using the beach.
She said warnings will be given and if incidents of illegal nighttime fires continue, tickets will be issued.
“We depend on people to follow the rules,” Greene added. “I think our challenge here is to shift people’s behavior in a minor way.”
Greene stressed her department does not want to end fires on the beach, but rather have it done in a responsible manner. She said the state is working with businesses and stakeholders to offer an affordable solution in the form of propane fires.
In addition, Ace Hardware in Carlsbad is offering discounts on portable fire pits and residents can visit the State Parks North Sector Office, 2680 Carlsbad Blvd., to receive a coupon.
Propane fires, meanwhile, are allowed in Carlsbad, Cardiff and San Elijo and barbecues are limited to propane.
Moonlight Beach in Encinitas and Oceanside Harbor still allow wood fires in provided rings only. Those beaches, however, are operated by their respective cities.
As for the beaches affected by the ban, fire rings will not be installed, Greene added. She said accessibility and California Coastal Commission requirements do not permit rings, although Greene said discussions continue to determine if a solution is possible.
“It’s a ban on wood burning, but not a ban on going down to the beach and having a fire,” she explained. “We are using the ban because we want to get people’s attention to shift their behavior about how you have your beach fire.”
Beach goers are asked to plan ahead and obtain a clean burning, portable propane grill or butane burner with stable legs with a clearance of at least six inches. Pallets with nails, wood logs, kerosene, oil, charcoal, fire logs, newspapers or trees are forbidden.
Charcoal grills are also being phased out at most beaches.
The order will not affect wood and charcoal barbecue fires at campsite rings at South Carlsbad and San Elijo campgrounds.
Steve Puterski covers Carlsbad and Vista. For tips or story ideas, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @StevePuterski.