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Beach bonfires not returning to Port San Luis due to fire concerns

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Posted at 10:42 PM, May 12, 2023

Beach bonfires will not be returning to Port San Luis this summer.

Wind and fire danger were key factors in the recent decision not to bring back bonfire rings at Old Port Beach, more commonly known as the Avila dog beach.

The area draws plenty of visitors and dogs, especially on a warm and sunny Friday afternoon.

“We usually come out here mostly because of the dog beach. It’s either here or Morro Bay,” said AJ Smith, who was visiting the beach with his family on Friday.

Beach bonfires were allowed, until recently, from mid-March through November.

But the Port San Luis Harbor District put that on pause during the pandemic and has now decided against bringing back the fire rings.

“I mean, it was a cool thing to do,” said Smith.

CAL FIRE SLO says that the fire risk wasn’t necessarily high.

However, there were some concerning calls that they responded to in the area.

“We believe there were people cooking down at the beach, they brought those hot coals up to dispose of them. When they couldn’t find a place to do that, they just dumped them in the grass and drove away,” said Captain Paul Lee with CAL FIRE.

That information from fire officials prompted the harbor district to decide against a fire ring permit program that was being considered.

“It’s not a terribly high risk, it’s one of those things that the risk does appear and when it does appear, we have results like the Avila Fire,” explained Lee.

Old Port Beach is closer to dry, brush-covered hillsides which is different than other areas on the Central Coast where bonfires are allowed.

“A little bit of wind, a little bit of heat-- it doesn’t take long for that fire to run up the hillside,” said Lee. “When you take a look at the Avila Beach area, the wind that comes onshore usually aligns with some of the steeper slopes in the area.”

Some locals say it’s sad to see beach bonfires go but add that there is still plenty to enjoy

“The fires are fun. It’s still nice to be at the beach when the sun goes down though, even if there’s not a bonfire,” said Smith.

The harbor district says it would have cost $30,000 each year to patrol the area in the evenings.