Burners Without Borders Call for Ocean Beach Fire Pits

Post Yule Pyre

I ran into my friend Tom “Thumper” Price at Saturday night’s Post Yule Pyre. He’s involved with Burners Without Borders, an awesome group of Burning Man participants that help out in various communities throughout the year doing public service and creating art (here’s a previous post I did about them). He told me about an interesting project that they are working on, where they have partnered with The National Park Service to create fire rings/pits/structures on Ocean Beach in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco. They are currently looking for help with designing and creating the pits, which will be installed on Earth Day 2007.

Last year the National Park Service considered an outright ban on beach burns, so this new program could help maintain the great tradition of having beach fires on Ocean Beach. There’s been a long history of beach burns in San Francisco, in fact two decades ago Burning Man itself started out as an annual beach burn over on Baker Beach.

Burners Without Borders is currently seeking Requests For Proposals for for these fire pits. Here’s the information that Tom sent out regarding this program:

A Little Background:

The National Park Service has their hands full, and are woefully underfunded. In San Francisco, they were spending $90,000 a year just cleaning up the mess left over from fires on Ocean Beach. The problem was so severe that earlier this year the Park Service considered banning fires outright.

However, thanks to thousands of letters from people like you, they’ve changed their mind and earlier this month announced a one year experiment with continuing to allow fires, but in designated burn platforms/fire rings. They’ve partnered with Surfrider, a great conservation group made of concerned surfers, to figure out what they should look like, and how they should be installed.

Around this time, volunteers from Burners Without Borders ( a group of people connected through attending the Burning Man event, dedicated to creating community through art and public service) began doing monthly beach clean ups on Ocean Beach, and heard about the fire pit design issue, and offered to help. (For those of you that don’t know, Burning Man began on Baker Beach in 1996, and continued access to fires is very near and dear to our heart.)

In a meeting last week, the National Park Service and Surfrider agreed to partner with BWB, to take advantage of our expertise in both fire and cleaning up after them ( Burning Man is the world’s largest Leave No Trace event) by having BWB manage a design competition for these fire rings. We’re obviously thrilled and honored, and happy to help, and our first thought was–let’s get as many people involved as possible.

The Designs:

There will be a dozen fire pits to begin with. No two designs need to be the same, but preference will be given to those that are artistic in nature, since people are likely to be more protective of something that’s attractive–so show us your best stuff!

A couple things to keep in mind:

They should either be too heavy to be removed ( 400lbs+) or anchored beneath the sand in some way. Conversely, they should be removable by Park Service heavy machinery during the big storm season of winter.

They should be easy to maintain, and empty. Surfrider has offered to help clean them on a regular basis, but making it easy to do so is key.

They should have reflective markings on them so that Park Service vehicles can see them when driving on the beach at night, and so there’s no trip/fall hazard.

They should be made of durable materials that can take the pounding from the ocean and fire.

They should be no more than six feet across, and should contain all flame and ash. (Tip-Concave designs will more efficiently burn wood and leave less debris ).

They should either not trap drifting, blowing sand, or be easily dug out if they do.

But Wait, There’s More:

In our meeting with the Park Service last week, one issue that came up was concerns about the limited number of fire rings–since not everyone could light a fire, would there be conflicts over who got to use them? The Park Service figured yes, which is why the fire rings are to be installed near stairways, to facilitate access for law enforcement. It also came up that there aren’t really any iconic images of Ocean Beach, like there are for, say Chrissy Field or the Golden Gate Bridge.

However, it’s been Burning Man’s experience that fires can actually create community, rather than cause tension. In fact, around a fire is about the only place where two strangers can stand next to each other in silence, and not feel uncomfortable.

So BWB also agreed to help create design multilingual signs for possible placement on Ocean Beach, explaining that the fires are a community resource, and that everyone will be welcome around them–they won’t be for exclusive use without getting prior permits from the Park Service. Any
other time–they’re open for anyone to join.

Which means we’re also looking for some designs for signage. Messages must include: Anyone is welcome around the fire–find the right vibe,
contribute your fire wood, and make new friends. There will also likely be some other regulatory messages regarding appropriate types of wood. Another
suggestion: Clean It Forward–people should be encouraged on arrival at a fire pit to clean out the ash from the previous user, before using it
themselves. And we’re also looking for some nice iconic imagery that says “Ocean Beach.” Suggestions as to fabrication (materials) and placement of
signs are also welcome; keep in mind that the Park Service is conservative about signage and generally follows the “less is more” approach.


This is going to happen in a big hurry:

Initial proposals should be in by January 14th.

Final designs will be chosen on January 28th.

Fire pits will be installed and lit for the first time in a community celebration at dusk, on Earth Day.

It should go without saying, but just to be clear: if you suggest a design, you should have the ability to create it, because the Park Service can’t afford to contract this out.


Which brings up the next point: some funds are available for this project, from the Park Service, other stakeholder groups, as well as perhaps Burning Man. However, there are a lot of fire rings to make, so please include reasonable expected costs in your proposal, and also remember the value you’ll get from this experience being able to create a (semi, perhaps ) permanent work of fire art in a public place.

What do I do next?

Sketch out your design ideas for signs and fire rings, in as much detail as possible, and email them to Tom Price at tomprice AT burningman DOT com, or mail them to him c/o Burning Man, 1900 3rd Street, SF, CA, 94158. Questions? Call him at 801-712-5371. Designs must be in by January 14th–so hurry! Please include estimates of cost, and obviously preference will be given to designs you can manufacture.

Thank you for your participation in helping preserve the right to fires on Ocean Beach!

-Tom Price
Burners Without Borders

Scott Beale
Scott Beale

Scott Beale is the founder of Laughing Squid and is based in New York City. When not running the blog, Scott can be found posting on Threads and sharing photos on Instagram.