State institutes burning regulations in time for fire season

Published 7:43 am Saturday, February 14, 2009

RICHMOND—The state burning law goes into effect Sunday, the start of spring fire season in Virginia.

The Commonwealth’s “4 p.m. Burning Law” prohibits burning before 4 p.m. every day from Feb. 15 through April 30, if the fire is in, or within 300 feet of, woodland, brushland or fields containing dry grass or other flammable materials.

The law is relevant to the residents of Southampton and Isle of Wight counties, since burning is illegal in the City of Franklin.

Violators in the city are committing a Class 3 misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $500. In addition to the criminal violation, those who allow a fire to escape are liable for the cost of suppressing the fire, as well as any damage caused to others’ property.

“Because people are the cause of more than 94 percent of wildland fires in the Commonwealth, the 4 p.m. burning law may be one of the most effective tools we have in the prevention of wildfires,” said John Miller, director of resource protection at the Virginia Department of Forestry.

“Each late winter and early spring, downed trees, branches and leaves become ‘forest fuels’ that increase the danger of a forest fire,” Miller said. “By adhering to the law and not burning before 4:00 p.m., people are less likely to start a fire that threatens them, their property and the forests of Virginia.”

According to VDOF, there were 1,322 wildfires in 2008 that burned 25,704 acres of forests in the Commonwealth. It was a 12.4 percent decrease from the 1,509 fires that burned in 2007.

While the number of fires was down, the amount of acreage burned increased 130 percent when compared to 11,200 acres that burned in 2007.

VDOF said Virginia saw the worst fire day in memory on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2008. On that day, high winds across the state whipped up 354 fires that burned more than 16,000 acres.

“The leading cause of forest fires in Virginia is carelessness,” said Fred Turck, the forest protection coordinator for VDOF. “An unattended fire, a discarded cigarette or a single match can ignite the dry fuels that are so prevalent in the early spring. Add a few days of dry, windy conditions and an escaped wildfire can quickly turn into a raging blaze.”

Of the 1,322 wildfires last year, VDOF said people burning debris or yard waste caused 28.6 percent of the blazes. Another 14.6 percent were arson, and 13.4 percent were from equipment use. The department said other fire causes included lightning, people smoking, children playing, railroads, and campfires.

“People living in most rural areas of Virginia are especially at risk,” Turck said. “To take a quote from Smokey Bear, ‘Only You Can Prevent Wildfires.’”

For more information on what you can do to protect yourself and your property, how to become “firewise,” or to pick up a complete copy of the Forest Fire Laws, contact your local office of the Virginia Department of Forestry. You can also log on to and click the link “Can I burn…?”