How a man saved his house by setting his car on fire

To raise the $15,000 needed to keep his home, Utah resident John Maxim pledged to burn his Ford Escort wagon if he got the money. He did, it burned, and now he has a criminal record.

Maxim's situation mirrors that of millions of Americans who fell into the morass of foreclosure, but his solution allowed him to keep the home he's lived in for seven years — even if it means telling his mother "I'll be on the 5 o'clock news on KSL Channel 5 for that thingy with the cops and the fire"

Last July, after falling behind by $6,500, Maxim's bank set his Salt Lake City home to be sold in a foreclosure auction, a move that Maxim says it did without warning and after some two years of negotiations over how a deal might be worked out. When he called his bank ready to pay the $6,500, Maxim was told he now needed $21,000 to hold on to the house.

With just a few days to spare before the sale, Maxim jumped online and vowed to burn his 1993 Escort wagon with its proud, 267,000-mile history, and stream the video for donations, promising to pay back those who donated to him. As he explained:

I figure in a country where Oprah can just give people cars, where Lehman Brothers Bank can get bailed out by our government, where Lindsay Lohan can be "breaking News", and all other such silly American debacles... that perhaps there are enough people out there who'd pay a small amount to see some desperate sap light his car on fire.

Maxim was right; in four days, 387 people chipped in enough small loans for Maxim to spare his house. But that meant he'd have to keep the other side of the bargain — which he hadn't thought through.

"Will someone tell my Mom I'll be on the 5 o'clock news... for that thingy with the cops and the fire."

Turns out even in Utah it's hard to win permission to burn your car. Fire departments aren't fond of car fires; neither are air pollution authorities. And once you start asking, and then you try to burn your car, the legal consequences start to get even hotter. After talks with several fire departments to burn the Escort for practice drills fell through (in part due to Maxim's request to sell ads and live-stream video of the fire) Maxim went to plan B: an illicit late-night campground car-b-que.

The trouble? The campground was on federal land.

Following the September fire, Maxim was charged by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management; last week, he plead guilty to two misdemeanor counts, including a $1,000 fine and $2,413.75 in other costs. But Maxim still has his house, and he says of the $18,000 he was lent — $15,000 in donations and $3,000 in PayPal fees — he's paid back about $3,500 so far. And having a house is more than many can say in America's post-Carpocalypse economy.