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Community raises concerns for air quality over fire pits 

A future of smoky skies is what some Morro Bay residents are worried about as the city works on a pilot project to put fire pits on Morro Strand Beach.

Retired surfer and beach frequenter Michael Klatt is mainly concerned with the impact those pits could have on the air quality. Klatt said that the idea of bringing in fire pits sounds nice but he’s concerned about smoke inhalation.

“It’s a high-density area and there will be a lot of people exposed to smoke,” he said.

Rob Livick, public works director for the city, said Morro Bay is looking to install one fire pit, and if the first is successful, then two more will be added to the beach.

Fire pits wouldn’t be anything new for the area. Livick said that they were once part of the beach but haven’t been in place for a long time.

“The city manager thought it’d be an attractive amenity for the public,” Livick said.

Port San Luis Harbor Manager Andrea Lueker, said the seasonal fire pits have been a staple in the Port San Luis community for seven or more years. Lueker said that the benefit of having the fire pits at the port is that fires are contained.

“From what we’ve experienced, I think people are going to do fires anyway, so if you have designated areas for the fires it means that the fires are kept there,” she said.

Fire pits’ effect on air quality was at the center of a 2013/2014 debate in Southern California beach cities after The South Coast Air Quality Management District—which covers parts of Orange, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, and Riverside counties—proposed a ban on beach fires.

The district’s media relations manager, Sam Atwood, said the agency ran air-monitoring tests that showed nearby residents had the most impact from fire pit smoke. Smoke traveling from one bonfire is equal to three average big-rig diesel trucks or the second-hand smoke from 800 cigarettes. The study also found that one fire pit releases as much particulate pollution as one big-rig diesel truck driven 564 miles.

However smoke does disperse as it moves away from a fire pit; its intensity decreases by 98 percent at a distance of 700 feet, according to the study.

In March 2014, the South Coast Air Quality Management District adopted a rule that would protect the health of beach dwellers while preserving the availability of fire pits. The pits must be farther than 700 feet from the nearest residence and 100 feet apart.

“So the idea was basically setting up these distance and density parameters to help ensure that there would be some dispersion of the smoke to reduce any impacts to residents,” Atwood said.

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