East Hampton Approves Beach Fire Container Law

The difference between this nighttime beach scene from years past and ones today: Now, both East Hampton Town and East Hampton Village will require that beach fires be built in metal containers rather than directly on the sand. Durell Godfrey

Fires on the beaches in East Hampton Town will have to be built inside of metal containers rather than directly on the sand according to a new law approved by the town board on Thursday.

Although town law has required that fires be fully extinguished with water before those that build them leave the beach, officials became concerned about the dangers of still-smoldering coals left covered with sand, particularly after a young child burned her feet on the beach this summer.

Cinders and remnants from an increasing number of nighttime fires on the beaches often turn the white sand gray, and are unsightly the town says.

The code, which mirrors one that has been in effect in East Hampton Village for about three years, will continue to require the removal of fire debris from the beach.

Speaking at a hearing on the new regulation held last Thursday night before the board voted to approve the town code change, Ed McDonald, the East Hampton Village beach manager, said that "it's much, much better," since the contained-fire edict went into effect. "The beaches are cleaner; they're safer," he said.

Mr. McDonald and other speakers suggested the town consider placing fireproof containers at beach parking areas for disposal of beach fire remains, thereby eliminating one potential obstacle to compliance with the new law -- reluctance to place the ashes and such in one's car to carry home.

The board heard only approval for the container law from the half-dozen speakers at the hearing.

Jeremy Samuelson, the executive director of Concerned Citizens of Montauk, said that after a winter storm scours the beach in that hamlet, the remains of "hundreds of fires" can be seen. "It doesn't magically disappear when we throw some sand on it," he said.

At this juncture, he said, no one is calling for an end to the tradition of beach fires, which many enjoy. But, he said, "the reality is, if we don't clean up our act, that is going to be proposed."

In order for the law to be effective, Marty Ligorner, a Napeague resident said, marine patrol officers must ticket those who do not comply. Mr. Ligorner said that his beachside neighborhood association would provide containers for the use of residents and guests.

The law will go into effect in the coming days, after it is filed with the New York State Secretary of State.

"The public education element is really crucial," to inform people of the new rule, Town Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc said.

The container rule is a "good start," Councilman Fred Overton said, but the board must address several details, including the size of the containers that are used. "There are some cheap ones that are left behind," he said. In addition, Mr. Overton, a founding member of the Springs Fire Department, questioned the wisdom of providing containers for ash disposal. If they are used for other garbage, he said, fires could ignite, requiring firefighters to respond.