As dusk came Friday night, a group of parents and children gathered on the ocean beach to mark the end of the school year. The children were sent off to gather wood. Someone went up to a friend’s house to get paper and some matches.
I showed a couple of eager kids how to build a twig tepee around balled-up pages of The New York Times, then how to layer on larger logs. Among the adults there was a bit of discussion about whether to dig a pit, but since I had been put in charge that evening, I overruled the pro-pit faction, saying it would eat up the radiant heat and make the fire more difficult to clean up.
With the arrival of summer weather, more people are taking to the beaches to sit around bonfires. At the risk of sounding like I am preaching, I’d like to run down the rules, as well as what, I hope, might be a way to make sure the tradition continues.
East Hampton Town and Village still allow beach fires. The town says that no fire can be closer than 50 feet from anything flammable and must be at least 100 feet away from a lifeguard stand. Where there is not enough beach width, fires can be within the 50-foot buffer, but no less than 25 feet from beach grass or permanent structures.
In the town, fires cannot be kindled until 5 p.m. and must be extinguished with water by a minute before midnight. As for materials, nothing with nails or made of chemically treated wood may be burned.
A bucket of water must be kept within 10 feet of a fire at all times, and no fire is to be put out with sand or buried. Finally, all fire debris must be removed, and the beach restored to its natural state by the end of the night. Southampton Town has banned beach fires, although Southampton Village allows them, more or less under the same rules as in the Town of East Hampton.
East Hampton Village has gone one step further, recently confining beach fires to metal containers up to two feet in diameter. This is an effort to limit their number as well as to discourage the spread of charcoal debris across the sand. Similarly, Suffolk County allows only contained fires at its two outer beach areas here, at Cedar Point and Shagwong Point, Montauk. Fires are not allowed on any of the state park beaches, that is, on Napeague or at Hither Hills, Camp Hero, and Montauk Point.
From my perspective, residents of the Town of East Hampton are lucky to still be able to enjoy a fire on the sand. Being a responsible citizen by returning when the sun comes up to scour the fire site may just help keep it that way.