Published Nov. 10, 2022
BY SHAYLA DUTTA
For most Carmel High School students, a childhood on California’s central coast means at least a few wood fire beach gatherings, from birthday parties to school-sponsored events, a tradition set to change after Carmel’s City Council voted Sept. 13 to ban wood fires from Carmel Beach.
Currently, wood fires are permitted from May 15 to Sept. 15 in designated pits south of 10th Avenue from 4 to 10 p.m. daily. Carmel Beach has seen increasing restrictions on these fires throughout recent years, culminating in the city’s vote to create an ordinance that would only allow propane fires, which are already allowed year-round.
“I totally get the people who don’t want us to have them,” says senior Elias Osorio, who often builds wood fires for gatherings among friends, “but I do feel we should be allowed to have wood fires. The beach is a huge part of Carmel, and along with going to the beach comes wood fires.”
According to Mayor Pro Tem Bobby Richards, the decision weighed several issues including the negative impact of charcoal on Carmel Beach’s white sand, the danger of improperly doused bonfires and the toxic smoke from driftwood. It’s also costly for the city to maintain them.
“Now the problem with the community fire pits is they get so brutally abused,” Richards adds. “I don’t want our employees to have to clean that. You can only imagine what kind of junk goes into those things.”
Many students recognize these concerns but wish to preserve some access to wood fires or do not believe the ban will fix the concerns it’s meant to address. One problem, according to CHS senior Jerry Marnell, is the inability to have such fires in other local places such as state beaches, where fires are not allowed, or areas only accessible after entering Pebble Beach for a fee.
Marnell, a regular beach gathering attendee, is joined by junior Alexis Pine and freshman Daniella Foley in noting the benefit of fire pits, which they say help make wood fires safer and more controlled.
“We should keep wood fires, but in the quantities we have them now,” says Pine, who cited CHS’ recent music department beach bonfire as a reason to do so. She lists the date and time restrictions as measures that help to maintain wood fires at reasonable levels. “Without the fires, we would be missing a lot of memories.”
Junior Sophia Scattini, another regular beach fire attendee, also prefers the city’s current restrictions, but recognizes the issue of toxic woodsmoke.
“If it’s better for the environment, it could be a good thing that they won’t allow them,” Scattini says, “but it’s definitely going to change a lot. A wood-burning fire is what you think of when you think of a bonfire.”
Students seem to agree that restricting wood fires works to preserve the health of Carmel’s public beach and residents, while also allowing for an activity popular among the area’s youth to persist.
Even if the days of wood fires at Carmel Beach are coming to an end, students like Foley continue to enjoy many other beach-related activities such as surfing and swimming. And though they are generally not considered to be as enjoyable, propane fires are allowed to melt marshmallows and roast hot dogs all year round.