By Devin Holt
In this weather, starting a fire might be the last thing on your mind.
But without a public reaction, late night bonfires on Ocean Beach could be a thing of the past. The National Park Service is mulling over a ban on fires after 9 p.m., which would essentially prohibit them after dark during essential summer months.
Burners Without Borders, a disaster relief organization inspired by the community-minded culture at Burning Man, is engaging in a last-minute push to extend the beach curfew until 10 p.m. In an email being circulated by Burning Man's newsletter The Jackrabbit Speaks, the group is asking the public to comment on the plan before the May 16 deadline.
They point out in this email that if a beach bonfire ban had been in effect in 1986, the original Burning Man couldn't have happened. The first Burning Man was, essentially, a bonfire party on Baker Beach with a whimsical, mystical element.
This isn't the first time Burners Without Borders has taken issue with the National Park Service.
In 2007 the Park Service wanted to ban beach fires altogether, and it was the Burners Without Borders campaign that stopped them. The two organizations agreed on a compromise "pilot program" where Burners Without Borders installed "artistic fire pits" and National Park Service agreed to monitor the situation.
We don't close Golden Gate Park because the 4/20 stoner party leaves a mess, and we shouldn't use "crime and mess" as an excuse to end cheap activities for regular people at a time when San Francisco gets more expensive by the minute.
But Burners Without Borders says the Park Service didn't follow through. They outline some of their frustrations on the Save Ocean Beach Bonfires page on their website.
“When BWB created artistic fire pits for Ocean Beach in 2007, the curfew for bonfires was 11 p.m. When NPS budget cuts made it difficult for them to manage the beach, the curfew became 10 p.m. By the NPS’ own account, the management of the fire pit program fell to the wayside and never had the resources to be properly managed. Now, the NPS wants to further limit the public’s access to bonfires with a curfew of 9 p.m.”
Worse yet, the group sees the earlier curfew as the first step in a new push to ban bonfires altogether.
There are good reasons for the National Park Service's concern over bonfires. In the Ocean Beach Fire Program on its website, the organization lists a litany of problems associated with them, most of which stem from bad behavior on the part of fire builders: crime, trash, calls to the police, and burning of toxic materials.
These are legitimate concerns, and people really should clean up after themselves better. Especially on the beach. But to end a long-standing tradition over a few bad actors is a bit much. We don't close Golden Gate Park because the 4/20 stoner party leaves a mess, and we shouldn't use "crime and mess" as an excuse to end cheap activities for regular people at a time when San Francisco gets more expensive by the minute. Burners Without Borders is only asking for an extension of one hour, so bonfires can be enjoyed when they are most useful: at night.
With public comment closing on Friday, each voice makes a difference. Here is a sample comment, copied from The Jackrabbit Speaks.
"I support public bonfires on Ocean Beach as a way to build community and share the outdoors. Therefore, I ask that you:
Keep the bonfire curfew at 10pm.
Increase the number of fire pits to 16, the number designated in 2007.
Implement a Public Education plan that supports the future success of bonfires at Ocean Beach and encourages beach goers to adopt Leave No Trace principles."
Comments can be left with the National Park Service here.
Image from Thinkstock