Each year, from Feb. 15 to April 30, no burning is permitted before 4 p.m. “if the fire is within 300 feet of, or in, a woodland, brushland, or fields containing dry grass or other flammable material.”
“The reasoning behind 4 p.m. is that, by late afternoon, the temperature begins to drop, the winds die down and the relative humidity tends to increase,” said Fred Turck, manager of the Prevention Program with the Virginia Department of Forestry, “All these factors are in our favor reducing the possibility of a fire escaping.”
“Embers and sparks have a much more difficult time keeping enough heat to ignite fuels (grasses and leaves) that are not as receptive to catching fire,” he continued.
The three hundred foot perimeter is the length of a football field, but you can be “legal” said Turck, and still be dangerous.
He adds the caveat that citizens may be within the parameters of the law, but if it’s windy, there might still be a problem.
“A fire could get away if you’ve not got water and tools like a shovel. Take precautions,” Turck said.
“We’ve been very fortunate to have desperately needed rain, but three or four days of dry, windy spring weather can make fire a concern. We haven’t had snow and weather patterns can shift quickly, as we know, in Virginia,” he said.
The statewide 4 p.m. law is a prevention tool, not designed to penalize people, but to prevent fire-starts in the first place.
Even though the ban has been an effective tool in the prevention of forest fires, debris burning continues to be the leading cause of forest fires in Virginia.
The 4 p.m. burning law is different from the burning bans which are invoked only during periods of extreme fire danger.
In the early spring, since forest fuels dry during the winter months, the danger of fire is higher now than in summer forests or grasslands that are green with new growth.
“Fire is quite common because everybody is trying to get their homes cleaned up for summer and the easiest way to do it is burn it,” Christiansburg Fire Department Chief Billy Hanks said. “Sometimes people don’t make wise decisions about burning. They don’t go out with the idea of setting the woods on fire, but the wind gets up and spreads ashes or they leave it unattended,” he said.
Dryness depends on snowfall and rain, and is hard to gauge. Late winter is a drier time of season because even one day of mild winds we’re back down to drought conditions according to the chief.
If you are planning on conducting a lawful burn after 4 p.m., alert the NRV Communication Center at 382-4343 with your name and address. Also remember to stay with the fire until it is extinguished.
Hanks advises that if you do burn during safer periods (after 4 p.m.), make sure the fire is absolutely out.
“You have to put water on it, stir the ash up and put more water on it and stir it again,” the chief said.
For more information, contact the Christiansburg Fire Department at 382-4388.