The annual Christmas tree burning tradition on Ocean Beach is advertised with a Burning Man-esque spirit of leaving nothing behind. But this year, participants did not follow suit.
"It took three days to clean up," said Alexandra Picavet, a spokeswoman for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which oversees Ocean Beach. "We had volunteers come in over the weekend to help clean up all beach debris, but it also took 21 hours for our crews to clear it."
Signs are posted along the beach warning that it is illegal to burn trees and debris, yet annually hundreds of conifers are set ablaze for the Post Yule Pyre the first weekend of the new year.
The unsanctioned tradition has been happening along Ocean Beach for some 20 years. Over that time, the event has become more popular — meaning more debris, trash and burned trees left in the sand.
Picavet said more than 100 burned trees were recovered from the beach and another 400 were picked up along the dunes and in parking lots after the Jan. 8 event. Law enforcement officials were at the beach warning people that burning trees could result in citations.
"It wasn’t meant to be a confrontation, but an education," Picavet said of the warnings.
Four people were cited for illegal burning of debris, and another was arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct.
The tree burning is advertised via Twitter by a group called Friends of the Rootless Forest. Organizers have not returned requests for comment, but blog entries on previous burns have said the group leaves no trace.
Videos posted on YouTube after this year’s event show flames and smoke rising high into the dark sky. Police vehicles can be seen in the background in one video, as attendees are warned to remember "no one is in charge" once park rangers approach.
Kristine Roselinus, a spokeswoman with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, said burning Christmas trees anywhere adds pollutants to the air, which is one reason it is illegal.