The statewide 4 p.m. burn law went into effect Feb. 15. This law prohibits burning before 4 p.m. each day between Feb. 15 and April 30 if the fire is in, or within 300 feet of, woodland, brush, or fields containing dry grass or other flammable materials.
Violation of the 4 p.m. law is a Class 3 misdemeanor with a fine of up to $500.
“The 4 p.m. burn law is one of the most effective tools we have in the prevention of wildfires,” said John Miller, director of fire and emergency response at the Virginia Department of Forestry. “In late winter and early spring, downed trees, branches and leaves become ‘forest fuel’ 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.”
Miller explains that the 4 p.m. time frame is based on environmental factors. After 4 p.m., the winds are likely to be calmer, the temperature decreases, and the humidity increases, all of which contribute to safer burning conditions. Regardless of the time of day, it’s critical to exercise sound judgment when burning at any time of year. Even if it is legal to burn, it might not be wise to do so. This is especially true if it has not rained in several days, if the winds are high, or if you don’t have the tools and equipment to contain or control your fire.
“The leading cause of forest fires in Virginia is carelessness. An unattended fire, a trailer chain dragging on the asphalt, 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,” said Miller.
Virginia has records which date back to 1925, and the 30-year average is 1,449 fires for 8,338 acres per year. 1941 saw the most fires with 3,697, and 1930 had the most acreage burned at 333,023 acres.