Burn law takes effect

Published 10:47 pm Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Fire marshals will begin today enforcing the state’s burn law, which prohibits outdoor burning before 4 p.m. during the spring fire season.

The fire season runs from Feb. 15 to April 30. The law prohibits burning before 4 p.m. each day if the fire is in or within 300 feet of woodlands, brush land or fields containing dry grass or other flammable materials.

“Carelessness with an unattended fire, a discarded cigarette or a single match can ignite dry leaves and grasses that are so prevalent in the early spring,” said Capt. James Dickens, Suffolk’s fire marshal. “Add a few days of dry, windy conditions and a simple yard debris fire can quickly turn into a raging inferno.”


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The burn law is meant to prohibit burning during the times of day when wind is at its highest and humidity levels are lower. A violation of the law is a Class 3 misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $500. In addition, people who allow a fire to escape can be held liable for the cost of suppressing the fire and any damage to others’ property.

“Wildfires in the commonwealth are very weather-dependent,” Gov. Bob McDonnell said in a press release from his office. “When you combine the effects of the 2011 tornadoes and Hurricane Irene with the relatively mild and dry winter we’re experiencing, it adds up to a potentially dangerous spring wildfire season. That’s a life safety issue which could affect thousands of Virginians.”

About 95 percent of wildfires in Virginia are caused by humans, according to the Virginia Department of Forestry. The leading cause of wildfires is open burning, which accounted for about 40 percent of wildfires last year.

The city requires a burning permit for all open-air burning within the city. Fire inspectors consider such factors as wind direction, proximity to other occupied dwellings, the resident’s ability to control the fire and the history of complaints in a particular neighborhood before issuing a permit.

The issuance of a permit does not relieve residents of liability if the fire gets out of control. A permit also can be revoked if neighbors complain.

The state forestry department also offers the following tips when burning outside:

  • 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.

For more information on fire prevention or obtaining a burn permit, all 514-4550.