Now is the time for town and village officials in East Hampton to think about beach season and if existing bonfire policies are adequate. We believe they are not.
Despite regulations limiting the size of beach fires, the kind of wood, how far they are from beach grass, and so on, many beaches were stained by blackened remains well into the fall. Public compliance with the fine-print rules is poor, and with a growing vacation rental industry, short-term visitors cannot be expected to even know what they are supposed to comply with. Luckily, one does not have to look far for a solution.
Both the town and village have established exclusion zones for dog walking — dogs must be kept on a leash until they are beyond 300 feet from a road end or parking lot. This is both to keep them from jumping on people and in recognition that dogs do not follow rules, often doing their business where unsuspecting beachgoers spread towels and children dig in the sand. A similar strategy should be imposed for bonfires.
This was not a problem in the past. Years ago, people seemed to understand their fires should be built off to one side or another of the road ends. In many cases, people would kindle their flames in the place someone else had done so a night or a few days before. But, as with a lot of things, that has changed.
Now burnt-wood coals and sometimes smoldering logs are spread all over. Not thinking about it or knowing any better, a new breed of fire makers frequently walks straight down from the parking lots and road ends and sets up. It is nice in the moment, but a mess is left behind that becomes a public hazard in the morning. People can — and do — sometimes build fires on the sand directly next to lifeguard stands. Sad to say, time is up for this crazy situation in which rules are ignored or misunderstood.
Acknowledging that compliance with complex, multi-point regulations will never be adequate, town and village officials must push the problems to the margins, that is, down the beach, away from where people sit.