Ocean Beach gets 16 new fire pits for 2017

As the first-ever Ocean Beach “No Burn” season comes to an end, the National Park Service is preparing to to roll out 16 new fire pits beginning Mar. 1.

In a community outreach meeting Thursday, the NPS said new 800-pound concrete fire pits will be placed on a quarter-mile stretch of beach between stairwells 15 and 20. Rules for fires on the beach etched directly into the side so that there will be “no confusion on the rules,” NPS Environmental Protections Specialist, Trevor Rice said:

“As part of the Ocean Beach Fire Program we are also adding new signs on the beach that are easier to read. … Come Mar. 1 we will have signs on every stairwell.”

Rules in place for the upcoming season will include a ban on fires during spare-the-air days, and requiring a permit for groups of 25 people or more. But according to the Spokesperson for the NPS, Nathan Hale Sargent, there is no set price for these permits:

“Permit costs will vary from free to an unknown number. … It all depends on the nature of the event.”

Curfew for bonfires on Ocean Beach will begin at 9:30 p.m. for the upcoming season, 30 minutes later than last year’s 9 p.m. cutoff.

The curfew came under scrutiny during the meeting when members of the public spoke out against it as too early. Marciana O’halloran, a resident from Half Moon Bay said:

“I was thinking that 9:30 p.m. seemed to be early. … We need to have more time to relax and enjoy it.  By the time we get (to the beach), get assembled and build a fire, it will be time to go.”

A bonfire after curfew or during the off-season can result in a penalty of up to $5,000 fine and up to six months in jail.

Lt. Dave Williams of the U.S. Park Police said, though, that this sort of penalty is rare:

“Most citations are for $125 and are unlikely to go as high as $5,000. … I have been working here for 14 years.  I have never seen a fine that much.  I have seen plenty of people contest tickets but the only reason a judge might do that is if there are other violations as well as the fire.”

According to Williams, the reason for the 9:30 p.m. curfew was that the majority of crime-related problems at Ocean Beach occur after 10 p.m.:

“We’ve had gang members rob people and children step on broken glass.”

According to a NPS Fires Program memorandum from last year, former supervisor Eric Mar along with the City and County of San Francisco allocated $185,000 for the program.  The funds for 2017 are currently up in the air, current District 1 Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer said:

“We are looking at how much money we will have in ad backs this year. … We at a city level are a little concerned about Trump and money being pulled from sanctuary cities, so I don’t know at this time what the (funding) will be.”

The 2017 bonfire season begins Mar. 1 and run until Nov. 1.