Burn restriction coming

Published 7:55 pm Monday, February 2, 2009

The Commonwealth’s 4 p.m. burning law goes into effect Feb. 15, 2009 – the start of spring fire season in Virginia. This law prohibits burning before 4 p.m. each day (Feb. 15 to April 30) if the fire is in, or within 300 feet of, woodland, brushland or fields containing dry grass or other flammable materials.

A violation of this law is a Class 3 misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine. 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 (VDOF). “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.”

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In 2008, there were 1,322 wildfires that burned 25,704 acres of forest land in the Commonwealth. This number was a 12.4 percent decrease in the number of wildland fires compared to the number (1,509) of fires 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. Virginia saw the worst fire day in memory Sunday, Feb. 10, 2008. High winds across the state whipped up 354 fires that burned more than 16,000 acres.

Fred Turck, VDOF forest protection coordinator, said, “The leading cause of forest fires in Virginia is carelessness. 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, 28.6 percent were caused by people burning debris or yard waste; 14.6 percent were arson; 13.4 percent were equipment use. Other causes included lightning, people smoking, children playing, railroads, campfires, and the rest were classified as miscellaneous causes.

“People living in most rural areas of Virginia are especially at risk,” said Turck. “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 www.dof.virginia.gov and click “Can I burn…?”