February 15 marks the start of the spring wildfire season in Virginia. This means weather conditions this time of year enhance our risk of wildfires, so the 4:00 p.m. burn ban law is now in place.
"As relative humidity goes down, you have a very high risk of escaped fires. Fuel is more likely to catch," said Matt Wolanski, an area forester with the Virginia Department of Forestry.
Winds increase and humidity decreases this time of year, which dries out the fuels for fires and makes them more likely to ignite and the fire more likely to quickly spread.
Humidity gets higher in the evenings again, making it not quite as risky. All debris burning and open air fires must be done after 4:00 p.m. until the end of the wildfire season on April 30th.
Although Virginia also has a wildfire season in the fall, more than 60 percent of the commonwealth's annual average 1,000 wildfires happen in the spring - especially in March and April.
The Rocky Mount Fire that burned more than 10,000 acres a couple years ago began in April.
Wolanski says if you plan to burn outdoors, make sure you're keeping a close eye on the weather.
"Take a look not just at the forecast for that day, but the next day as well. When you burn these large brush piles, sometimes they'll continue to smolder for quite some time afterwards."
He added to still use caution when burning even after 4:00 p.m.
"You definitely want to use caution even if it's after 4 p.m.," he said. "If the winds are high and the relative humidity is still low, in that period it's advisable not to burn."
He says after burning to make sure the fire is completely out. Water can sometimes put it out at the surface of a wood pile, while embers remain burning inside.
If you violate the law, you could face a misdemeanor charge and a $500 fine.
If you allow a fire to escape in Virginia, you will also be liable for the cost of putting the fire out, as well as any damage caused to the property of others.
Here are some ways you can prepare your property for the wildfire season, per the Dept. of Forestry:
• Attend community preparedness meetings;
• Visit the Firewise website at www.firewisevirginia.org;
• Remove all branches that touch the house, garage, shed, etc.;
• Clear all brush (tall grass, leaves, branches, weeds, etc.) within 30 feet of the home and other structures;
• Keep gutters clear of debris;
• Remove combustibles (wood, propane tanks, gas grills, motor homes, boats, ATVs and cars) from under or near structures;
• Trim branches up to 10 feet from the base of the tree and remove any vines from the trees;
• Use gravel or chunky bark for mulch;
• Install spark arrestors on chimneys;
• Keep flammable plants away from your home;
• Maintain your driveway so that the clearance is at least 12 feet wide and 12 feet high, and
• Use fire-resistant materials for your roof, deck and siding projects.