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Cleaner-burning bonfires?

AQMD committee agrees to test proposals from two potential contractors in an attempt to lessen the health threat from wood-burning beach fire pits.

November 15, 2013|By Jill Cowan
  • Groups of friends huddle around a fire pit at Big Corona State Beach in Corona Del Mar. The pits have been a gathering point for family, friends, and visitors to the beach for years.
Groups of friends huddle around a fire pit at Big Corona… (Don Leach, Daily…)

Imagine it: After a long day at the beach, the sun begins to set. The air cools, darkness falls and soon it's time for hot dogs and s'mores.

But instead of lighting up firewood piled in a concrete ring — and sending up a thick column of smoke in the process — beach visitors gather around flames fueled by natural gas that lick at ceramic logs set over stainless steel grates.

That's just one rough idea for the future of Southern California's embattled beach bonfires that regional air quality regulators considered Friday as they discussed proposals for demonstration programs that could replace up to 30 wood-burning fire rings with ones fueled by either natural gas or propane.

South Coast Air Quality Management District officials sought the proposals as part of an effort to mitigate any harm to health caused by the wood-burning beach bonfires without infringing on what many have called a Southern California tradition steeped in nostalgia.

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The prototypes would be the first such beach fire rings available for public use, officials said.

At its meeting Friday, members of the AQMD's Technology Committee agreed to move forward with proposals from two potential contractors: Corona-based Earth's Flame and Blazing Design of Essex Junction, Vt.

"We're basically going to have to invent a brand new product," said Mike Van Buren, owner of Blazing Design.

The company, he said, already makes a broad range of fireplaces and fire pits, including a portable gas burner that can be buried in the sand at the beach. But that device, he said, is not meant to be permanent.

Still, the former technical director for a hearth fire and barbecue trade association said he relishes the challenge.

"It'll be very interesting," Van Buren said. "It's very exciting."

AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood said prototypes could involve either retrofitting existing fire rings or building from the ground up.

A district staff report recommended allotting up to $300,000 for each of the two proposals, which were chosen from among the seven that the agency received. A consent calendar item giving staff members the green light to draw up those contracts is likely to go before the full board next month, Atwood said.

According to the report, each company would get a yearlong contract for the demonstrations of two prototypes: one natural gas and one propane. During that time, they'd receive up to $125,000 for a design and development phase, then up to $175,000 for a demonstration phase.

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