OCEAN CITY — Likely a by-product of restrictions imposed by the pandemic, the beach bonfire program soared this summer in Ocean City with a significant spike in permits.
One of the takeaways from Tuesday’s budget update presentation was the growing success of the beach bonfire permit program. Naturally, with the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing, many of the town’s revenue sources took a hit, while others surprisingly thrived. One of the latter was the beach bonfire permit program.
With many restaurants operating at limited capacity, movie theaters closed for much of the summer, other amusements were limited by an employee shortage and concerns abounded over a crowded Boardwalk, many visitors opted to enjoy the beach at night with family and friends around a bonfire. The numbers certainly bear that out.
Budget Manager Jennie Knapp said the program came in $50,000 over budget, which is significant considering the price tag for a permit. The beach bonfire permit program was one of the all-stars under the heading of revenue that will exceed budget. Mayor Rick Meehan agreed.
“The permit is $75, so that means there were an additional 660 bonfires,” he said. “That number is above what was budgeted, so I’m guessing we’re probably closer to 1,000 bonfires on the beach.”
There were days in July when there were 50 individual permits issued for beach bonfires, sometimes two at the same street. There were 34 bonfire permits issued on a Saturday in mid-August, as another example.
With the arrival of fall and cooler weather, the program still appears to be going strong. For example, there were 14 bonfire permits issued last Friday and another 26 last Saturday. Already, as of Thursday, there were 23 bonfire permits issued for this Saturday.
“I think it’s great,” said Meehan. “I think in this year in particular, it was one of those things people did because of COVID. A family or a small group can enjoy themselves out on the beach in the fresh air.”
Meehan said he would like a broader overview of the bonfire permit program.
“I’d like to look at the permits and look at the numbers,” he said. “You can get the permits online. It’s something that’s very easy to do.”
Indeed, acquiring a beach bonfire permit is simple. A couple of 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 former in-person method.
As a result, the number of beach bonfire permits has steadily risen since and really spiked this year. Under the old system, those seeking a permit would have to apply in person at the Fire Marshal’s office, which carefully reviewed the requested time, place and location. The fire marshal’s office applied strict rules, ensured the fees were paid and notified other town agencies that might be affected.
The old system was often cumbersome, and permits were often applied for days and even weeks in advance. Under the online system, the same safeguards and oversight are in place, but those desiring to have a bonfire on the beach that same day, or even hours in advance, can gain the permits and get signed off for their events. There are strict rules for carefully putting out and covering beach bonfires and the Fire Marshal’s Office follows up on each one along with the town’s public works department.