Spring Fire Season Begins in Virginia

Blue Ridge fire near Lurray, Virginia in 2010- Photo courtesy Kevin Carbone

RICHMOND – Spring fire season which runs from Feb. 15 through April 30, has begun and officials are warning Virginians that the threat of wildfires has increased this year due to Virginia’s mild winter.

During the spring fire season open burning is restricted and prohibit open air fires between the hours of midnight and 4:00 p.m. Known as the “4:00 p.m. law,” these restrictions are in place due to the potential for rapid fire spread across woodland and grassland areas that is the result of dry outdoor fuels, high winds and temperature increases that are normally present in the late winter and early spring season.

During this period, residents may conduct open burning between the hours of 4 p.m. and midnight, subject to other restrictions. Where open burning is allowed, it is limited to leaves and other yard trimmings if curbside trash pick up is not available for this purpose and must not be done any closer than fifty feet from any structure.

The Department of Forestry offers additional fire safety tips including:

  • Even if it’s after 4 p.m., don’t burn if the wind speed is in excess of 20 miles per hour and humidity levels are below 30 percent
  • Burn in small piles rather than one big pile
  • Before igniting your fire, clear the area around the pile down to bare dirt
  • Don’t add to the fire after midnight
  • Keep a fully charged hose and a shovel on hand to extinguish any spot fires that ignite away from the burn pile
  • Dial 9-1-1 as soon as a fire escapes your control

According to State Forester of Virginia Carl Garrison, more than 40 percent of the 1,114 wildfires in Virginia last year were caused by people burning trash or debris. “These fires threatened the lives of thousands of Virginians and more than 4,000 homes and structures in 2011,” Garrison said.

Starting a fire before 4 p.m. during spring fire season is not only dangerous, it’s a Class 3 misdemeanor crime. It can also be very costly. In addition to a fine of not more than $500, the person responsible for an escaping fire is financially liable for the cost of suppressing the fire and for damage caused to another’s property.

“A good-sized fire that escapes someone’s control can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars just in suppression efforts,” Garrison said. “If your fire burns down the neighbor’s home or barn, you could be liable for hundreds of thousands.”

The Department of Forestry will be using a new slogan this year to remind people about the 4 P.M. burn law. “Eager to Burn? Wait Your Turn” was developed by Neal Oberholtzer, a state area forester in Mecklenburg County, as a way to discourage people from burning before 4 p.m. The slogan will be featured on the Department of Forestry’s website as a click-through portal to information on wildland fires.