October 11, 2006

Inflamed About Beach Fires

A public hearing on regulating beach bonfires sparked comment from two oceanfront, Amagansett residents in East Hampton Town Hall last Friday. Bernie Kiembock even brought visual aids.

Bringing a big plastic tub to the podium, he opened it to display the type of debris beach fires leave on the sand near his home.

Charred slabs of wood, some sporting large rusty spikes were among the detritus Kiembock proffered.

Lawmakers held a hearing on proposed amendments to the town code codifying regulations regarding bonfires. Currently, the town requires beachgoers to get a permit for a waterside bonfire. But officials admitted enforcement of the requirement has been less than stringent. Chief Fire Marshal Dave DiSunno said that "technically" beach fires have been illegal, but, he added, "We didn't prosecute when fires were within reason."

In the face of mounting complaints about the number of bonfires, as well as the nuisance trash left behind, the board decided to tighten up the town code. The law speaks to where, when and how beach fires may be permitted. It also makes clear what type of material may be burned and what safety precautions must be followed.

No fires may be lit within 50 feet of beach grass or vegetation or structures, and the bonfire must be at least 100 feet away from a lifeguard stand at public beaches. Only clean wood, meaning nothing treated or sporting nails, may be used. Enforcement officers are given the right to determine whether it's too windy for a fire, and a bucket for extinguishing must be kept handy. No fire is allowed after midnight. Sand cannot be used to put out the fire, and the site must be restored to its natural condition at the end of the night.

Kiembock and neighbor Martin Ligorner offered horror stories, detailing what they've witnessed regarding bonfires. Ligorner lobbied for restricting bonfires to areas that aren't used by bathers, and especially children. Kiembock spoke of nights when there were so many bonfires on the beach near his house, his smoke alarms went off. He's counted over a dozen in just one night. He, too, favors a specially designated area away from homes and bathing beaches for fires.

Supervisor Bill McGintee didn't support the notion. He suggested that the new law would give the marine patrol better guidelines to use and put more teeth into prosecution.

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