Max Gets A Visit From The Fire Chief: Fire Pit Project

One of my favorite pastimes is having a nice bonfire on a cool summer night. There is just something about a crackling fire cutting into the cool air keeping everyone warm. Throw a beer or two into the mix, there just isn’t much else I would rather do.

I thought we could all use a little sabbatical from all this healthcare talk. Sometimes, day-to-day life is a little more interesting than talking about out-of-pocket healthcare costs, free cholesterol tests, and buying medical office buildings. We also like to keep the blog updated on some of the things Max is up to in between healthcare and personal finance posts.

The Max Out of Pocket crew got an unexpected visit from the fire chief a few months ago. My wife and I were sitting in our backyard on a Sunday evening looking at photos that we had captured on our new $60 game-cam. We were also having a nice bonfire and throwing back a few brews. This is a pretty regular routine for us in the summer. We have been having fires in our backyard quite often for well over a year. So I was surprised when at about 8 pm the town fire chief peaked his head around the corner of the house. I was even more surprised when he started asking about our fire pit permit. Fire pit permit? And here I thought I was a model triple AAA+ platinum investment grade tenant.

Game-cam photo of a deer at night.
Our bear photos aren’t blog-worthy yet, but here is a nice deer we got over the summer.

Rules Sometimes Make Sense 

This has been a new state for us with new rules. We have come across a few interesting things that were different from where we used to live. But up until this point, having a permit for a fire pit was not one of them. We live close to US National Forest land in an area that draws tourists. So it makes sense to me that there would be a process to follow before lighting up some dry wood in the middle of a hot summer day.

After his initial ask about the fire pit permit, the fire chief mentioned he was “on-call” that day. One of his ‘guys’ thought he saw smoke coming off the mountain and called him to let him know. So he came over to check it out to make sure it wasn’t in the forest. We live at the foot of a mountain, so I could certainly see how someone might visualize a forest fire. I apologized and told the chief that we didn’t know about the permit requirement. I then asked how to go about applying for one. 

He went on to say that the first place to start would be getting our fire pit in compliance with the town code. I am probably making this guy sound kind of hardcore. I have to say, he was extremely nice about the whole thing and only wanted to help. No citation or ticket was issued and overall it was a pleasant human interaction. But he did say that a fire pit needs to be at least 25 feet from the house. Eyeballing ours, it was probably only about 10-12 feet away. So we were basically breaking two rules; no permit and our fire pit was too close to the house. 

Fire pit specs
Our Town Fire Pit Specs

So after the conversation, we showed the chief a few photos of a bear we got on our game cam. He was about as pumped as we were about it. The chief also told us a story of a bear that regularly hangs out on his deck. He also mentioned to us that he has nine game-cams set up on his property. Anyway, he told us we could let the fire burn down for the night and come down to the fire station some time to get the permit after we build a new compliant pit. Challenge accepted. 

The Project

Here is a photo of our old fire pit. We can see through our kitchen window that it is a bit too close to the house for comfort. If this was an unregulated Airbnb, I could see some rowdy vacationers getting a bit carried away and causing damage to the house (or worse).

Picture of our old fire pit through our kitchen window.
Poor fire pit placement.

I had second thoughts about this location from the day we put it in. Not for any safety reasons, but because it is somewhat on a slant making it hard to sit on one side of it. The Max Out of Pocket crew doesn’t host a ton of friends, but in the off chance we have friends or family over, it could be difficult to sit around the entire fire pit. Looking back on the original decision to put it close to the house, we were probably just going for convenience.


Here at Max Out of Pocket, we like to keep out-of-pocket costs down in all aspects of our life. One way to keep fire pit building cost to a minimum is by using rocks procured locally from our own yard. This could become a challenge if one lives in a neighborhood in the suburbs where the developer clear cuts the land removing every rock and sign of living vegetation from the property to make it look the same as all the other plots. Someone might even be tempted to go out of their way to purchase colorful bricks or source fancy rocks from another state to help with aesthetics. They might even hire someone to install said fire pit. Max would not recommend any of this since it could derail someone’s savings rate and the ability to retire early. An above-ground mobile fire pit from Home Depot just might make more sense if you find yourself in a bind.

Max OOP likes $20 Adirondack chairs and thinks paying for rocks is a pretty funny transaction if you really stop and think about it. Thankfully, here in rural New England, large rocks are in abundance. We sourced all of our fire pit rocks from our backyard about a year ago when we built the initial fire pit illegally. So now we just needed to move them to a legal location. We also grabbed a few new ones to make this new fire pit even better.  

Tools – Shovel, Rake, Tape Measure, Sand

I prefer to dig the fire pit a few inches into the earth, but the specs in this town require at least a 6-inch depth. To dig a few inches into the earth, you need a shovel, something we already happen to own.

At some point, someone decided to lay gravel through a portion of our backyard. So we needed to rake this gravel back over the old fire pit to hide our indiscretions. This required a metal rake, which also came in handy when clearing an area for the new fire pit location. To make sure the new location was in compliance, we used our tape measure to verify the 25-foot distance requirement.  

Lastly, we had to dig the new hole, move the rocks, and drop a few inches of sand into the bottom of the new pit. 

Note On Lifting 

We like to keep healthcare costs down here at Max Out of Pocket. So bend those knees when moving those rocks and don’t lift with your back. After all, we don’t want to inadvertently put ourselves in the market for a hernia repair surgery. Those things can get expensive and good luck getting a decent estimate for the cost of the surgery.

Final Result

Here is our new compliant fire pit 2.0. 

New fire pit during the day with no wood in it.

We are happy to follow the new rules in our new state. I am glad the fire chief was able to set us straight. Most of the time rules exist for a reason, and since the fire pit permit was just a few dollars, generating revenue for the town does not appear to be one of them. 

New fire pit with a raging fire in it.
Fire pit in action

Max Out of Pocket for new compliant fire pit = $3.00

*I technically still need to get a full season permit. This requires a letter from my landlord, so I will just wait until 2020 for that since winter is coming. But I did purchase a $3 permit online which appears to be valid for vacationers.


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