Department of Fire Rescue  |  Burn Law

Burn Law

The Commonwealth's 4PM Burn Law goes into effect 15 February - the start of spring fire season in Virginia.  This law prohibits burning before 4:00 PM each day (15 February-30 April) if the fire is in, or within 300 feet of, woodland, brush land or fields containing dry grass or other flammable materials.

"The 4PM burn law is one of the most effective tools we have in the prevention of wildfires," says 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 4PM, people are less likely to start a fire that threatens them, their property, and the forests of Virginia."

In 2006, there were 1,267 wildfires that burned 13,664 acres of forest land in the Commonwealth.  This was a 64 percent increase in the number (773) of wildland fires and a 181 percent increase in the acreage burned during 2005.  Most of the fires occurred during the very dry spring.  Wildland fires in 2006 in Virginia caused $8.5 Million in damage to timber and $2.8 Million in damage to homes (14) and other structures (48).

"If not for the suppression efforts of VDOF employees and local firefighters, 882 homes and other structures would have been damaged by these wildfire," said Miller.

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."

Of the 1,267 wildfires last year, 462 were caused by people burning debris or yard waste; 189 were arson; 93 were equipment use; 72 were due to smoking; 67 were started by children; 55 were caused by lightning; 33 were related to the railroads; 13 were campfires, and the rest were classified as miscellaneous causes.

Areas affected by hurricanes, tornadoes or strong thunderstorms are of particular concern to the Virginia Department of Forestry.  In addition to creating more forest fuel, large numbers of downed trees make firefighting more difficult and dangerous.

"People living in or near these areas 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 your local office of the Virginia Department of Forestry.  You can also log on to and click "Can I burn?..."

The Virginia Department of Forestry protects and develops healthy, sustainable forest resources for Virginians.  Headquartered in Charlottesville, there are Forestry staff members assigned to every county to provide service to citizens of the Commonwealth.  VDOF is an equal opportunity provider.

With nearly 16 million acres of forest land and more than 183,000 Virginians employed in the forest products industry, Virginia forests provide more than $29.4 billion annually in benefits to the Commonwealth. 


Contact LE Rhodes with the Virginia Department of Forestry or for more information.


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