The Virginia Department of Forestry says a 4 p.m. fire ban will go into effect February 15, which is the start of the spring fire season.
The law prohibits lighting outdoor fires before 4 p.m. inside or within 300 feet of woods, brush areas or fields containing dry grass or other flammable materials.
Violators will face a class 3 misdemeanor and a fine up to $500. On top of this, anyone who allows a fire to get out of control will be liable for the cost of putting the fire out and any damage caused to property.
VDOF resource protection director John Miller says, "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 threaten them, their property and the forests of Virginia."
In 2007, there was a 16 percent increase in the number of wildland fires compared to 2006. Those 1,509 fires burned more than 11,000 acres in the Commonwealth.
Miller says, "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."
Of the fires last year, 28.8 percent were caused by people burning debris or yard waste, 15 percent were arson, 11.8 percent were from equipment. While some fires are caused by nature, such as in lightening strikes, people being careless ranks highly.
Fred Turck, VDOF forest protection coordinator, says, "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 condition and an escaped wildfire can quickly turn into a raging blaze."
Due to continuing drought conditions and areas hit by hurricanes and tornadoes in the last few years, the VDOF is especially concerned about this spring fire season.
To learn more about protecting yourself and your property from fires or to see more on laws regarding forest fires, visit the Department of Forestry website, link below.