Glendale College's Student Magazine
Thursday November 23rd 2017

Huntington Beach: Fire Makes Everything Brighter

The sun rises. 20-somethings crawl from their vehicles, one by one like clowns pouring out of a tiny-wind up car, stretching out their cramped up muscles and inhaling the ocean’s first morning breeze. It is only 6 a.m. as cars roll into the parking lot and groups begin searching to claim their own first-come, first served fire pit that will soon be fully occupied before noon. All this is done to partake in a common Southern California summer ritual: a bonfire on the beach.

Huntington Beach bonfires, a timeless tradition shared among generations, is now being threatened with extinction. According to the Air Quality Management District [AQMD], firewood burned in open pits is a contributing factor to Southern California’s air pollution, and has resulted in attempts to remove them from public beaches. Yet beach bonfire fans are not complying willingly. Not only are protesters rallying and gathering around bonfires to fight off the fire pit removals, but a group of Huntington Beach advocates also launched a campaign, “Keep Your Mitts Off Our Pits”, creating a war between the fans versus AQMD and beachfront residents.

Back at the beach, a group of girls frantically run in search of their own fire pit to claim, victoriously marking their territory by symbolically plunging an umbrella into the ground. They form an assembly line, one placed at the trunk of the car, picking out a chair or a blanket or a cooler of food and handing it to the next person; each person passing the goods to the next, until it has arrived safely at their pit. As the last item arrives, the girls plunk down onto the soft sand; smothering their bodies with sunscreen as they rest underneath the sun’s scorching heat.

The heated argument between the survival or extinction of Southern California’s bonfire tradition erupted when Newport beachfront residents complained of the exposure to burning firewood throughout the year. The city reached out to the California Coastal Commission in hopes of extinguishing the 60 pits in Newport Beach, but were turned away because the commission protects public access to the coast. This case attracted the AQMD, also targeting Huntington Beach.

As noon approaches, a football spirals elegantly in the air, being passed continuously between a guy and his best friend. They rush to their grill, placed next to their fire pit, checking if the hamburgers and hot dogs are ready to eat. The rest of their group is lounged around, drinking out of dripping cold soda cans and playing the top ten radio hits on their speakers. They see the group of girls in the neighboring pit and invite them to a friendly game of volleyball. The girls flirtatiously agree as the guys promise to go easy on them. At the end of the game, the girls cheer over their dominated win as the frustrated guys beg for a rematch.

Keeping the fire alive is important to keeping the tradition of generation’s favorite pastime alive as well. It is a shared willing sacrifice of sleep between fans to arrive as early as possible to secure a pit, as a man would camp in front of Best Buy a week before Black Friday to securely achieve the perfect deals. It is a shared common bond that helps spark friendships between neighboring pits. It is shared stories and memories between a parent and their child, a man and his best friend, a woman and her significant other. Beach bonfire pits have been and still are an important custom to Southern California Residents and its visitors.

Others are gathered near the water, chasing and running after waves, all the while screaming and laughing and splashing water at their friends. One falls to the ground and starts digging as the rest follow her lead and begin building a sandcastle, proudly accomplished once one of them places a stranded leaf on top of the mound only to be torn down by the rising tide. They all sit down, letting the waves comb over their legs, chatting and staring into the horizon. The orange swirls in the sky are mesmerizing as the night sky tries taking over. Firewood begins to be thrown into pits as the flames consume them, fighting against the dark.

Although beach fans are excited every summer to partake in the bonfire ritual, beachfront residents dread the time of smoke-filled air and consequences of open firewood burning. As multiple fire pits light up across the beach, the smoke begins to accumulate in the air and blow towards the homes of beachfront residents. Some have said that the smoke from the bonfires were enough to set off the fire alarms in their homes. This is one nuisance coupled with the constant covering of soot on their patio furniture and cars that lead the beachfront residents in their drive to abolish fire pits.

The dark night takes over the sky as pits start lighting up across the beach. The war may be going on, with each side bringing reasonable arguments, but the on-going tradition of bonfires on the beach is secured for now. Fires represent a primordial force, a gathering at the hearth that has been with mankind since before recorded history. New memories and new people help create millions of more stories and start new traditions. A tradition that many look forward to every summer, because really, that flame of fire can make the darkness of night fade while brightening the rest of the day.

About Katherine Jose

Katherine Jose is a photography major with a career goal in the magazine industry. She spends most of her time watching DC animations and window shopping online.

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