Spring burning law goes into effect today

Published 10:42 pm Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Virginia Department of Forestry’s 4 p.m. burn law goes into effect today and lasts through April 30.

Open burning with a permit is allowed from 4 p.m. to midnight only during this time frame, according to a city of Suffolk press release. The law also applies to recreational fires.

The law prohibits burning before 4 p.m. because winds are usually higher and humidity levels are lower before that time. Both factors increase the potential for an open-air fire to escape someone’s control.

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“Wildfires in the commonwealth are very weather dependent,” State Forester Bettina Ring said in a press release. “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 37 percent of wildfires that occur in Virginia are caused by people burning trash or debris. On the whole, about 95 percent are caused by humans.

“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.”

VDOF Director of Resource Protection John Miller said people should pay attention to the weather even after 4 p.m. when deciding whether to light a fire.

“If wind speed is in excess of 20 miles per hour and humidity levels are below 30 percent, please don’t light a fire,” he said in a press release. “The chances are high that the fire will escape — and that’s a life safety issue for you, your family and your neighbors.”

Miller recommends that people wishing to burn do so in small piles rather than one big pile; clear the area around the pile down to bare dirt before igniting it; don’t add any flammable material to the fire after midnight; keep a fully charged hose and shovel on hand to extinguish any fires that ignite away from the burn pile; and be prepared to call 911 should the fire escape your control.

In addition to the criminal violations — it’s a Class 3 misdemeanor to start a fire before 4 p.m. during the ban, even if it doesn’t escape — those who allow a fire to escape their control could be on the hook for the cost of suppressing the fire as well as any damage caused to others’ property.

After the 4 p.m. burn law expires, the summer burn ban will take effect and last through Sept. 30. That law bans burning at all times.

For more information on burning, contact the Suffolk Fire Marshal’s Office at 514-4550.