Burned by the City of Grand Rapids’ Requirements for a “Recreational Fire”…

So you think now that the City of Grand Rapids has passed an ordinance to make it legal to have a “recreational fire” in your backyard, you can get the ingredients ready for your s’mores? Guess again!!!

As I stated in an earlier post, the city has made it almost impossible for you to meet the requirements to have a fire in your backyard.

The City of Grand Rapids will start selling permits for a “Recreational Fire” on Thursday, September 22nd, 2016. The permits will cost you $50 and that money is non-refundable.

Before you take the time to fill out the application for the permit…do your homework and talk to your neighbors.

Your neighbors will be instrumental in you getting (or not getting) your permit. The city will send out a notifications to all properties within 2 lots of the property where the recreational fire is proposed. The city will have to get their permission to issue you a permit. (I couldn’t figure out on the city’s website if that also includes properties across the street from your lot. It does state that any property that touches your lot, even if just a corner, will be notified.) If even ONE of the neighbors objects — NO permit for you! (Oh, those 50 smackeroos you sent with your permit…so sorry…it’s non refundable!)

Getting neighborhood permission may actually be the easiest of the requirements for you to meet. Here are a few of the other restrictions:

  • Your lot must be at least 5,000 square feet (from what I could see, the average city lots are about 40-50 feet wide and about 100 feet long — or 4,000-5,000 square feet.)
  • Your fire container must be at least 20 feet from an structure
  • Your fire container must be at least 20 feet from any lot line or fence
  • Your fire container must be at least 15 feet from any overhead wire.

Fire DistanceNow I’m not any big math wizard, but let’s play with some numbers… Let’s say you have a 3 foot by 3 foot fire container that needs to be 20 feet from a structure, fence or lot line…that means you would need a minimum area of about 43 feet x 43 feet with your fire container placed in the middle of that area.

So, keeping that in mind, I went on to the accessKent website and did some property searches to get a map of various city lots. I randomly chose a handful of properties on the north, south, east and west sides of the city. Of the properties I checked, very few had enough space to meet all the requirements.

Let’s say you did have a big enough yard to meet the distance requirements… How long will it take to get the permit? Well, start planning for about Halloween time. The city will start accepting applications on the 22nd of September. They are then going to send notices to your neighbors (that should take a couple of days). Your neighbors then have 21 days to respond. If no one objects to your request, the city will then issue you your permit (that will probably take a few days as well). So, plan on about 30 days before you can light up that fire in your yard.

Oh, by the way, you can only burn “seasoned dry firewood”. No branches or twigs from your yard…that would be considered yard waste and that’s not acceptable.

There are other requirements as well. You can find them all on the City’s Question and Answers webpage.

So, bottom line, don’t get too excited about the possibility of a “recreational fire” in your backyard. I wouldn’t be going to buy that fire container anytime soon. Save your money.

My goal is to keep you informed and/or entertained on a regular basis. Maybe you'll learn something new, or just get that much needed laugh. My topics will include a wide range of subjects....from what's going on in the world, to places I've been, things I've seen, or even just a fun video that I've found online. Check back often to see what I've posted.


  1. Paul
    September 13, 2016 - 9:23 am

    Scott: We live in the City of Grand rapids. We have neighbors who have had a metal fire pits which they use in their driveways or backyards and they are totally illegal. The city has been called on occasion. 99% of the time nothing happens as the police and fire dept are too busy with more serious stuff to respond. The one time the Fire Dept did come they told them to put it out and left. The fire was not put out. As far as I can see it does not matter what the law is, the City will not enforce it.

  2. Denny
    September 13, 2016 - 9:47 am

    Excellent synopsis of an ongoing problem with certain fire /camping enthusiasts! I like you Scott did the “math” and figured most people who want this are not going to Shell out $50 bucks for a permit anyways and if and thats a BIG If they meet requirements then theres the legal aspect of your neighbors saying yeah or Nay on this! I have no problems of a firepit as long as it doesn’t bother my family by me having my windows open and enjoying the nice cool air in these oncoming fall evenings! But the City has made it pretty clear at least to you and I that it will be hardly accessible or worth it!

  3. Holly
    September 14, 2016 - 12:08 am

    Question! What’s the ruling on BBQ pits. If, hypothetically, I were to throw a grate over my fire and throw down some steaks and maybe some potatoes and a pot of corn, would it still be considered a recreational fire?

  4. Joel Roelofs
    September 14, 2016 - 7:22 am

    Once again government at it’s best?

  5. Marianne
    September 15, 2016 - 5:01 pm

    Yeah, your best bet is to make friends with your neighbors, find ones that like being invited over, offer them a beer, and no one gets hurt. If you’ve got a neighbor that has called on you before, then you’ll never get the permit anyway. If they never have, they wouldn’t care whether you’ve got a permit or not anyway and the only way you’ll see a citation is if the city responds to a call. The permits are worthless and don’t serve anyone well. I wish I could say “it’s a start” but it isn’t. Luckily, my neighbors don’t care. We all invite each other to have “happy hour” anyways and do block parties in the summer. Love my block!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *