La Jolla Town Council supports local efforts to ban wood and charcoal beach fires

Propane fires like this one can provide a better beach fire experience, Barber Tract resident Dorie DeFranco says.

The La Jolla Town Council voted to support other La Jolla groups’ efforts to have the city of San Diego ban wood and charcoal beach fires in favor of those fueled by propane.

At its April 8 meeting online, the Town Council heard from Dorie DeFranco, a resident of the Barber Tract neighborhood, who said “the beach communities have been seeing many illegal beach fires and other bad behavior that goes along with them.”

The fires present pollution and safety hazards, said DeFranco, a member of a beach team task force with members of other communities.

The La Jolla Town Council heard two presentations about fire safety at its Sept. 10 meeting in an annual forum designed to educate residents about fire risk and ways to prepare for a fire emergency.

Currently, beach fires are prohibited between midnight and 5 a.m. and must be contained to city-provided fire rings or to portable barbecues or similar devices. Fuel must be “clean, dry wood,” charcoal or propane.

Air pollution from wood fire smoke “is a complex mixture of gases and fine particles … causing burning eyes, runny nose, bronchitis and asthma attacks,” DeFranco said.

She argued the smoke can be especially risky for senior citizens and “the at-risk population” and for children because they “are more susceptible to reduced lung function due to their respiratory systems still developing.”

She said the city prohibits smoking on the beach, “yet wood smoke is 12 times more carcinogenic than tobacco smoke.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency researchers have estimated the lifetime cancer risk from wood smoke to be 12 times greater than from a similar amount of cigarette smoke.

“Things like trash and plastic and Styrofoam are also being burned,” DeFranco said, and lighter fluid used to ignite fires “adds to the fumes.”

Beach fires often are built directly in the sand, she said, and often left to smolder under the sand, causing injury if walked on with bare feet. “The embers are still warm, and burns are being caused.”

DeFranco said burnt wood chips sometimes are used in graffiti or make their way to the ocean to pollute it, while blowing embers pose a potential fire threat to nearby homes.

The solution, DeFranco contended, is not a total ban on beach fires but limiting them to propane only.

The La Jolla Town Council discusses the idea of banning wood and charcoal beach fires at its April 8 meeting.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Propane fires, she said, would eliminate pollution and many of the burn risks. Using propane “still allows grilling,” she said. “It doesn’t take away from the beach fire experience and it provides fireside enjoyment.”

The Town Council voted to support efforts by the La Jolla Community Planning Association, La Jolla Parks & Beaches, La Jolla Shores Association and Barber Tract Neighborhood Association to ban wood and charcoal fires at certain local beaches.

Town Council trustee Ernie Casco abstained. He did not respond to a request for a reason. ◆