OCEAN CITY — One of the takeaways from the Ocean City Fire Department budget presentation last week is the growing success of the beach bonfire permit program.
Roughly two years ago, the Ocean City Fire Marshal’s Office adopted an online platform to allow visitors and residents to apply for beach bonfire permits, streamlining the old in-person method. As a result, the number of beach bonfire permits has spiked since.
“The online permit program has been a huge success,” Deputy Fire Marshal Josh Bunting said. “It provides better customer service and it has increased the activity. It has been incredibly successful. It used to take a week or so to get a bonfire permit, but with the online program, it can be done in a couple of hours.”
Bunting said the permit process better fits the changing travel habits of visitors, many of whom might to decide to come to Ocean City for the weekend at the last minute.
“People plan their vacations differently these days,” he said. “They might decide on a whim to come down on a Friday and they can get a permit for a beach bonfire before they get here.”
Bunting said the bonfire program allows visitors to enjoy the beach in the evenings with friends and family as a quiet alternative.
“It’s an incredible experience,” he said. “It’s a totally different experience to be out on the beach at night with a fire than driving up and down Coastal Highway. We encourage it, especially with the safeguards we have in place.”
Those precautions include a digital permit issued via email or text that would automatically control the date, time and location. The system would carefully explain the rules, collect the permit fee and automatically advise other agencies such as the Ocean City Police Department, the beach patrol and the Coast Guard, for example. The system could also provide a conduit for the Fire Marshal’s Office to cancel a permitted fire because of weather.
Bunting said there were 326 permits issued for bonfires last year, up 50% from 218 the previous year. He said he expected that number to exceed 400 this year. A check of the town’s website showed there were already bookings for the coming year including three on this Saturday alone.
The cost of running the permitting and inspection program is around $2,200 annually. The cost of an individual bonfire permit is $75. If Bunting is right and the number swells to 400 this year, the program would take in $30,000.
When asked who follows up after the permitted bonfires, Bunting told the council that duty falls on the Fire Marshal’s Office with assistance from the public works department, which is often still out cleaning the beach in the evenings during the summer.
To learn more about a beach bonfire permit, click https://oceancitymd.gov/oc/departments/fire/fire-marshal-office/permit-applications/