Outdoor fires now prohibited before 4 p.m.

Published 8:01 am Friday, February 19, 2010

FRANKLIN—Virginia’s 4 p.m. burning law went into effect Monday, marking the start of spring fire season in the commonwealth. Effective until April 30, the law prohibits burning before 4 p.m. if the fire is in, or within 300 feet of, woodland, brushland or fields containing dry grass or other flammable materials.

A violation of the burning law is a Class 3 misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine; in addition, anyone who allows a fire to escape is liable for the cost of suppressing the fire and 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. By adhering to the law and not burning before 4 p.m., people are less likely to start a fire that threatens them, their property and the forests of Virginia.”

Last year 837 wildfires burned 7,494 acres of forestland in Virginia; it was a decrease of 36 percent from the number of fires in 2008. Department of Forestry officials said that wet weather during last year’s fire seasons was “a critical factor in reducing the number of fires.” Citizens burning debris or yard waste were among the top causes of wildfires in Virginia.

“The leading cause of forest fires in Virginia is carelessness,” said Fred Turck, a forest protection coordinator for the Department of Forestry. “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.”