The fate of the fire rings is part of a larger effort to reduce regional air pollution by cracking down on open burning. Of greatest concern are microscopic soot particles that can lodge in the lungs and, in some cases, pass through cell linings to the bloodstream and reach other organs, said Sam Atwood, an air district spokesman.
The agency has found elevated levels of these tiny pollutants downwind from the fire pits and is conducting testing in the two beach towns to quantify it. The agency estimates the region's 840 pits generate up to a quarter-ton of particle pollution each summer day.
Pollution risk wasn't even a consideration for Abderhalden and her kin as they relaxed around their fire on a recent Saturday night. The family had arrived at 7:30 a.m. to score a first-come, first-served fire pit at Bolsa Chica State Beach. A steady wind blew off the ocean and the strong smell of wood smoke drifted across the parking lot and onto a roadway.
"It's a pleasure to see the fire burn and it makes you relax. I think it's ridiculous to take them away from the people. They've been here forever," said her brother-in-law Jim Bleemers, who was warming himself after surf fishing until dusk. "It draws people together."
Yet the issue has become so contentious in Southern California recently that even those who don't live near the sand and don't use the fire pits have an opinion — and not all of them are drawn to the flames.
Arnold Van Sprew, who visits Newport Beach twice a month from the landlocked city of Cypress, was soaking in the sun and watching dozens of boats launch for the annual Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race.
"If I had a $6 million home right here, I wouldn't want the smoke coming in all day long either," he said, gesturing to the impeccably manicured bluff-top houses. "Why have no smoking on the beach and allow fire pits? It just doesn't make sense."
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