In Virginia, spring brings increased wildfire potential and a greater threat for escaped
fires. Virginia’s spring wildland fire season and accompanying 4 PM Burning Law
officially begin Monday, February 15.
The law prohibits burning before 4 p.m. each day between February 15 and April 30 if the fire is in, or within 300 feet of woodland, brush or fields containing dry grass or other flammable materials. In addition to being tended at all times, fires started after 4 p.m. should not have additional material added to the burn after midnight. If weather conditions become critical, localities often add further restrictions to outdoor burning at the town, city, and county levels. So, be sure to check with your local officials before burning.
Ninety-five percent of wildland fires in Virginia are human-caused. The majority of
escaped fires result from people burning debris, such as accumulated brush piles or
trash, on dry and windy days. Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) officials
emphasize that citizens should take extreme caution, even within the bounds of the law,
to ensure they are burning safely. Keep your piles small, remove anything burnable
from within 10 feet of your pile or burn barrel, and have water and a shovel or rake
Why 4 p.m. and why in the spring? During the spring, burning conditions become
incredibly conducive to fire spread due to increased and erratic winds, drying of fuels
(such as leaf litter) that are dormant this time of year, and lower humidity. As the days
start to become warmer, radiant energy from the sun shining down on dry grass, dead
leaves and other materials, further dries out existing fuels, making them a tinderbox.
What may start out as a small fire can quickly escape and grow into a wildfire that
engulfs hundreds, if not thousands, of acres. After 4 p.m., winds tend to decrease and
the moisture in the air and fuels increases, lessening the potential for fires to escape.
VDOF’s Assistant Director of Fire and Emergency Response, Dave Houttekier said, “The 4 PM Burning Law is one of the most effective tools we have to prevent wildfires.” Emphasizing the importance of the regulation he added, “By adhering to the law and not burning before 4 p.m., people are less likely to start a fire that threatens