New burn law goes into effect in Virginia

By Zach Armstrong

PETERSBURG, Va -- A ban on open air burning within 300 feet of the woods or dry grass before 4 p.m. will go into effect on starting Feb. 15 each year and runs through April 30. Burning between the hours of 4 p.m and midnight is allowed as long as it is taken proper care of and is attended to at all times.

Violation of the law is a Class 3 misdemeanor with a fine of no more than $500. Charcoal or gas fire fired barbeque grills as well as fire pits are permissible to use while the law is in effect so long as precautions are taken to cover and contain the fire.

The “4 p.m. law” was adopted during the 1940's to reduce the number of wildfires in the spring when Virginia traditionally has an increased number of fires. During the winter months, winds are usually elevated, the relative humidity is lower and the fuels on the forest floor are extremely dry, having "cured" without having the tree leaves to shade them.

The time period was chosen because after 4 p.m., winds usually calm down and the relative humidity levels increase reducing the potential for debris fire or any outdoor open air fire to escape people’s control.

Debris burning is the top cause of wildfires in Virginia followed by intentionally set or "arson" fires. Virginia’s 30 year average for wildfires 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.