The 75-day spring wildfire season in the Commonwealth begins Sunday when the 4 p.m. Burn Law (which allows burning only between 4 p.m. and midnight) goes into effect. Citizens are reminded to be extra careful with any open-air fire from now through April 30.
“Wildfires in the Commonwealth are very weather dependent,” said State Forester Bettina Ring. “Low humidity, dry fuels – such as leaves, grass and tree limbs – and gusty winds are prevalent this time of year. Even a relatively small fire can quickly get out of control and spread fast.”
Ring said that 37 percent of the wildfires that occur in Virginia each year are caused by people burning trash or debris. “It’s the number one cause year in and year out,” she said. “And these fires threaten the lives of thousands of Virginians. Last year alone, more than 2,000 homes and other structures were protected by the Virginia Department of Forestry’s wildland firefighters.”
According to VDOF records, more than 95 percent of wildfires in the Commonwealth each year are caused by humans and, thus, are preventable. The State Forester wants Virginians to know that there are things they can do to reduce the risk of wildfires.
“The best thing people can do is to obey the law by not burning trash or debris before 4 p.m. each day during spring fire season,” Ring said. “Virginia’s 4 p.m. law has been in place since 1950 and is one of the best tools we have for reducing the threat of wildfires. Because humidity levels typically increase and wind speeds usually decrease after 4 p.m., the likelihood of a fire escaping someone’s control is reduced.”
But, just because you are allowed to burn after 4 p.m., it doesn’t mean that you should burn on certain days. John Miller, VDOF’s director of resource protection, said, “If wind speed is in excess of 20 miles per hour and humidity levels are below 30 percent, please don’t light a fire. The chances are high that the fire will escape – and that’s a life safety issue for you, your family and your neighbors.”
If conditions are suitable the day you wish to burn, Miller recommends that you: 1. burn in small piles rather than one big pile; 2. clear the area around the pile down to bare dirt before igniting your fire; 3. don’t add any flammable material to the fire after midnight; 4. keep a fully charged hose and a shovel on hand to extinguish any spot fires that ignite away from the burn pile, and 5. dial 9-1-1 as soon as a fire escapes your control.
Starting a fire before 4 p.m. during spring wildfire season is not only dangerous, it’s a Class 3 misdemeanor crime – and one that can be very costly. In addition to a fine of not more than $500, the person responsible for the fire’s escape is financially liable for the cost of suppressing the fire and for damage caused to another’s property.
“The cost of battling a wildfire that escapes someone’s control can easily reach thousands of dollars,” Miller said. “And if your fire burns down the neighbor’s home or barn, you could be liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars for the property damage. The men and women who put their lives in danger fighting these wildfires do so in the most safe and cost-effective way possible, but the costs can be very high, especially if the fire becomes very large.”
To learn more about the spring wildfire season, the 4 p.m. Burn Law and alternatives to debris burning, go to www.dof.virginia.gov .
For more than 100 years, the Virginia Department of Forestry has protected and developed healthy, sustainable forest resources for Virginians. Headquartered in Charlottesville, the Agency has forestry staff members assigned to every county to provide citizen service and public safety protection across the Commonwealth. VDOF is an equal opportunity provider.
With nearly 16 million acres of forestland and more than 103,000 Virginians employed in forestry, forest products and related industries, Virginia forests provide more than $17 Billion annually in benefits to the Commonwealth.