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Burning Before 4 P.M. Illegal

A recent fire in the Virgilina community was the result of a violation of the commonwealth’s 4 p.m. burning law that went into effect Feb. 15, according to Chief Forest Warden Alec Williamson of the Virginia Department of Forestry in Halifax. Williamson reminds county residents the 4 p.m. burning law prohibits burning before 4 p.m. each day through April 30.

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.”

In 2009, there were 837 wildfires that burned 7,494 acres of forest land in the commonwealth.

This was a 36 percent decrease in the number of wildland fires compared to the number (1,322) of fires in 2008. Similarly, the amount of acreage burned decreased 70 percent when compared to 25,704 acres that burned in 2008.

Periods of wet weather during the spring and fall fire seasons were a critical factor in reducing the number of wildfires. Of the fires that did occur, citizens burning debris or yard waste continue to be the leading cause of wildfire in Virginia.  Arson and equipment use also make up the majority of the fires.

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.

“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 the Halifax County office of the Virginia Department of Forestry or log on to www.dof.virginia.gov and click “Can I bum...?”