But along with the innocent fun comes the laws with not-so-innocent fines attached.
Many people interviewed on a recent weekend who were using Ocean Beach’s fire pits said they were unaware of potential legal troubles for such things as using the wrong fire fuel (like wooden pallets), leaving fires unattended or abandoned, and burning fires at the wrong time without a permit. These issues are covered under city codes and may be enforced.
Longtime Ocean Beach resident Gregg C. Connors said he was particularly unaware of the no-burn code applying to pallets, which he brings from his job site.
“We’ve been doing this forever, just like everybody else around here,” said Connors. “At least twice a year we have a big party: an ‘afterschool’ party and a ‘before school’party. Never have I heard of such a thing [no burning of pallets allowed] until today, when someone else advised me that I can’t use the pallets for firewood. I thought they were kidding.”
Connors brought the entire family — two kids, a dog, surfboards, some friends, drinks and food — as well as three pallets, his neighbors one pit over brought two pallets and the group two pits down sported two pallets.
Several fire-pit users wondered what the harm might be. Perhaps the nails? Maybe some coating polluting the air? Trashy residue left behind?
“We pay very high taxes to live here at the beach,” said one fire lover who has lived in the Ocean Beach area on and off for 30 years. “We should be able to enjoy ourselves. I came back here to enjoy the beach and use it.”
“I think we have too many ridiculous laws around here,” he said. “First the smoking and alcohol ban, the tent ban, now the pallets. It seems they [the city] don’t want people using the beaches anymore, with all the curfews and laws they put out. We used to be able to sit here all night if we wanted.”
Members of one large group of local adults that regularly uses the area at Dog Beach appeared to be the only group on this weekend to have brought their own pre-cut, permissible firewood.
“Yeah, we’ve known about the law for a while,” said one group member. “We do this every Saturday night. I believe [the laws are] mainly because of the hardware [nails] attached to the pallets. We think [the prohibition is] OK. We got no problem buying firewood and coal. It keeps the pits cleaner and us out of trouble.”
Wood makes for a cozy fire, but store-bought wood can be pricey, with prices of bundles ranging anywhere between $5 and $8. Collecting wood at parks and beaches is prohibited under city code, so the next cheapest option in the eyes of many appears to be wooden pallets. After all, they’re free, widely accessible and burn for a long time.
But the law is the law, and Sgt. Jack Knish of Western Division said that specific law is in the San Diego Municipal Code.
Under a code section adopted in 2010, Knish said fires in fire pits may only be built using materials limited to charcoal, clean wood and paper products which do not contain landscape debris, paint, stain, sealer, wood preservative, cloth, foam rubber, metal (including nails and other hardware), asphalt, plastic or other materials producing noxious fumes, odors, smoke or leaving any type of solid residue other than ash.
Even though there is no specific mention of pallets, which would probably explain the confusion, Knish said the pallet prohibition should be “self-explanatory.”
According to Knish, a violation could yield an offender a fine of $250.
“These laws are usually dealt with on a complaint basis,” said Knish.
The municipal code also prohibits:
• leaving fires unattended; fires must be extinguished, cleaned up and fire debris deposited in a city-provided hot-coal container;
• the use of sand and/or dirt to extinguish fires;
• unused wood, coal and other fire fuel being left at the fire pit;
• and use of city fire pits between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. without a permit.
A full list of guidelines and regulations at www.sandiego.gov/beach-regulations. Permits can be obtained from the Park and Recreation Department at (619) 235-1169.