FIRE on the beach – Christmas Tree Burning

**UPDATE: I have received a message from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources explaining that fires of any type on the sandbar are illegal. In addition, the message states that most of the trees are shipped in from the mainland and they have pesticides and chemicals that are harmful to the environment. Please look at the full response from DLNR in the comments on this blog to understand the extent of law concerning this event.**

Once a year, in January, on an evening when the tide gets particularly low, an unofficial event takes place at The Sandbar in Kaneoha Bay. Quite by accident we were able to witness this event because we had decided to anchor at the sandbar and enjoy a quiet evening or two on the hook.

Saturdays are often crowded at this local hangout, but this time there were quite a few boats and people making the trek to the edges of the shallows.

Walking to the burn site as the tide continues to fall.

Well, it turns out that every year, after Christmas, an underground communication takes place and discarded Christmas trees are gathered for a huge bonfire. I don’t know how many years this has taken place, but the news travels quickly and quietly. Friends, families neighbors and pets gather early in the day and play in the water until dusk begins to settle and the tide has rolled most of the water off of the sand.

Tommy and Frank stake claim to their “islands.” Apparently Frank needs more land than Tommy.

It is in the twilight, just before dusk truly begins that one or two pontoon boats, piled high with discarded Christmas trees, arrives at the sandbar. With jovial hellos, folks grab the trees and one by one carry them to a dry spot on the sandbar. Volunteers toss the trees haphazardly in a pile, as others form a loose circle around the trees.

Circling the trees before the lighting.

As we approached the the pile and saw groups of people were gathering in the circle, Dr. Seuss’ song, “Welcome Christmas” which the Who people sing on Christmas morning, was playing in my head as I watched the smiling people. (The lyrics are quite nice if you take a listen.)

Can you see TTR way in the background far from any possible ashes?

One minute before the lighting of the tree, a single Roman Candle firecracker was shot into the air.

Sending up the one minute warning firecracker.

One quick flame to the tree pile sparked a huge bonfire. It literally took only moments for the trees to become a heatwave of fire. The speed of the combustion made me realize how Christmas tree fires cause such destruction in homes!

The trees have been lit!
Just minutes after the trees were set on fire.

In this contained and safe environment, the fire was beautiful and enchanting as it danced and devoured the branches. Though we were standing in only ankle deep water, the night air was chilly and the blaze dispersed warmth and light that were welcome.

The fire was itself was pretty and created beautiful reflections on the water.

I was truly amazed by how quickly the fire burned through the trees! I would estimate that an hour after the fire started, the majority of the trees were gone. The remaining debris was washed away as the tide rose and today there is no evidence that the secret burning ever occurred.

Flames created controversy.

In the days after the tree burning, there were complaints on-line about the event as some believe the fire creates mess and debris in the water. For myself, I thought the event was very safe and I saw no mess created. We walked the sandbar the next day and found no trace of the trees. Plus, if any branches do drift off, they are natural and can decompose in the water.

What does surprise me is that people were complaining about the mess of the Christmas Tree burning while not complaining about the mess created by the fireworks set off on New Year’s Eve. I posted a video of midnight fireworks in Kaneohe Bay which were beautiful and more abundant than I have ever seen! I absolutely cannot imagine all the bits of trash left on the streets from that event!

But everyone has his own “hot” button. (See what I did there? hehe) I’m a visitor in Hawaii and we are simply fortunate to see both the New Year’s celebratory fireworks and the Christmas Tree burn.

FYI, those of us on TTR tried to keep a 6′ distance from the others on the sandbar. Even though we were outside and standing upwind most of the time, we did our best to keep distances. We also had our face masks with us if needed.

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3 thoughts on “FIRE on the beach – Christmas Tree Burning

  1. Please see the attached news release from the Dept. of Land and Natural Resources. This is not only against the law but it is bad for the environment. Most trees are shipped in from the mainland and can have pesticides and other chemicals on them. Please do not continue to promote this as some kind of innocent tradition that causes no harm.




    Jan. 11, 2021

    Photos & Videos on Social Media Demonstrate Annual Disrespect

    (HONOLULU) – The illegal burning of Christmas trees at Ahu O Laka (Kāne’ohe Bay sandbar) is not only a violation of State of Hawai‘i Administrative Rules (HAR), this year, it was exacerbated by non-compliance with COVID-19 mandates. Photos on social media sites show large numbers of people standing shoulder-to-shoulder without masks, as tree-fueled fires burn in the background.

    DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) Chief Jason Redulla said, “We received a tip about tree burnings on Saturday and dispatched DOCARE officers to He‘eia Kea Small Boat Harbor. Honolulu Police officers were already on the scene and boats were already headed in from the sandbar. Unfortunately, we could not identify any of the individuals involved in these illegal and disrespectful activities.”

    The burning of trees after the holidays has been going on for years. Ahu O Laka is under the jurisdiction of the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) and is a wildlife sanctuary. DOFAW rules state: “§13-126-32 Fires. No person shall discard any lighted objects, or start or maintain a fire, including use of portable stoves or cooking devices.” Additionally, ground and open fires are not permitted on any Hawai‘i beaches.

    Redulla added, “People are actually hauling trees to Ahu O Laka by boat and the burning of trees is detrimental to the sandbar and the marine surrounding ecosystem. Moreover, numerous photos on social media show these people clearly ignoring current COVID-19 mandates, which on O‘ahu restrict gatherings to fewer than five people and require masking when in close-proximity to others.”

    The sandbar tree bonfires are a good reminder that DOCARE relies greatly on the expeditious reporting of natural and cultural resources violations. There are two ways to report incidents:
    643-DLNR (3567) or via the free DLNRTip app available for both iPhone and Android users. “Clearly, our officers cannot be everywhere, all the time, and the faster we receive reports about illegal activities, the better chance we have of responding in time to educate violators, and when necessary to cite them. All we ask is for everyone to respect the ‘aina.”

    Many social media postings did express outrage over the latest tree burnings.

    # # #

    (Images and photos duplicated from various social media sites)

    Video – Illegal bonfires at Ahu O Laka (Jan. 9, 2021):

    Photographs – Illegal bonfires at Ahu O Laka (Jan. 9, 2021):

    Media Contact:
    Dan Dennison
    Senior Communications Manager
    (808) 587-0396


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