Some Sunset Beach residents are relieved this week that the city of Huntington Beach will limit where fireworks may be ignited within the city boundaries.
When the formerly independent unincorporated area of Sunset Beach came under Huntington Beach’s jurisdiction last year through annexation, many in the seaside neighborhood worried that some Huntington Beach policies would not fit with Sunset’s needs and desires.
Their radar grew more intense when it was announced that Huntington was considering lifting its ban on igniting legal fireworks within the city boundaries.
Sunset Beach suffered one of the worst fires in its history of Sunset Beach on May 12 of 2011 that caused about $10 million worth of damages to four beachfront homes and their contents in the 16500 block of South Pacific Avenue. Three of the homes were deemed uninhabitable and one was completely gutted.
The fire began in one multi-story home that collapsed. Orange County Fire Authority reports said the fire was thought to have ignited when a charcoal barbecue grill fell over and the ocean breeze whipped up the flames that spread rapidly.
Orange County Fire Authority ultimately registered it as a five-alarm fire, with about 100 firefighters brought in to battle the blaze. Renters in one of the buildings said they lost everything they had and had no renters insurance to replace their possessions.
While the community poured out its heart and produced a fundraiser to help, the specter of more fires hitting some more of the older Sunset Beach homes remained. This was especially true for those with beachfront homes who heard that fireworks might be allowed by Huntington Beach.
Adding fuel to their concerns was that the disastrous fire occurred in the wake of the county of Orange’s decision the previous year to close down the Sunset Beach Volunteer Fire Department.
Sunset Beach sprang into action. Mike Vanvoorhis, president of the Sunset Beach Community Association, reported that formal objections were filed with the Huntington Beach City Council along with a request to have Sunset Beach exempted (all fireworks prohibited).
On Jan. 16, the council voted to approve an ordinance lifting the ban. However, the details of the ordinance gave some relief to Sunset Beach’s concerns.
“By the specifics of the ordinance, fireworks are banned in all of Sunset Beach,” Van Voorhis said.
According to the ordinance, fireworks in Huntington Beach will not be allowed on city beaches, in parks and environmentally sensitive areas. Fireworks would not be allowed anywhere on the ocean-facing side of Pacific Coast Highway to protect Sunset Beach, the specific downtown business area, and all streets except sidewalks and alleys in residential districts.
Huntington Beach will allow fireworks to be sold in the city, despite pleas from residents throughout the city and the police and fire chiefs to keep them banned.
The City Council vote Tuesday lifts the ban on the usage and sale of safe-and-sane fireworks during the Fourth of July holiday for a trial period of two years.
Councilwoman Connie Boardman and Councilman Joe Shaw voted against lifting the ban and Boardman voted to have it repealed.
“I’m going to work as hard as I can … to repeal it,” Boardman said.
Mayor Don Hansen introduced the proposal as his first item on the list as mayor and said he wanted Huntington Beach residents to enjoy the tradition of fireworks just like neighboring cities that allow it.
The ordinance was drafted with some strict guidelines in an effort to minimize chances of fires.
Fireworks will not be allowed on city beaches, in parks and environmentally sensitive areas, everything on the ocean-facing side of Pacific Coast Highway to protect Sunset Beach, the specific downtown business area, and all streets except sidewalks and alleys in residential districts.
Boardman said she thinks the guidelines are likely to confuse some residents and especially the nearly half a million visitors who flock to Huntington Beach on the Fourth of July.
Meanwhile, some Sunset Beach residents expressed concern that although “safe and sane” legal fireworks would be allowed, they suspected there was a propensity for fireworks enthusiasts to also use illegal fireworks.
A 2007-08 Orange County Grand Jury report found that the use of illegal fireworks increases in cities that allow the sale of legal fireworks.