Virginia’s 4 p.m. burn law goes into effect Tuesday

by Quinton Sheppard - Posted on Feb 09, 2011 - 04:58 PM

Photo: Nelson Jarvis, technician with the Virginia Department of Forestry, spent most of Monday at the Gloucester office readying equipment for the upcoming spring fire season that starts Tuesday. Photo by Quinton Sheppard.

Nelson Jarvis, technician with the Virginia Department of Forestry, spent most of Monday at the Gloucester office readying equipment for the upcoming spring fire season that starts Tuesday. Photo by Quinton Sheppard.

With the start of the spring fire season in Virginia on Tuesday, Virginia Department of Forestry technician Nelson Jarvis was busy this week ensuring that all the local equipment was ready for the most dangerous time of the year—the season of wildfires.

With the start of the spring fire season also comes the 4 p.m. statewide burning ban. The law prohibits burning before 4 p.m. each day until April 30 if the fire is in, or within 30 feet of woodland, brush land or fields containing dry grass or other flammable materials.

Jarvis said last year was not an exceptional year for the number of wildfires that were reported. However, he wished to clear up a couple of misconceptions many people have about fire dangers.

"First of all, people assume if it rained a lot last week, it won’t burn next week," Jarvis said. "That’s simply not true."

Areas with phragmites and other grasses that fuel wildfires dry out very quickly, he said. The grasses can ignite the next day following a heavy rain even though the ground underneath might be sopping wet and muddy.

This situation can often cause even more problems because if a fire ignites, the ground is so wet, any equipment brought in to fight the fire can easily become stuck, Jarvis added.

He also urged residents to exercise extreme caution when disposing of their woodstove ashes and when monitoring their burn piles. Often, he said, people will think if their ashes have settled for days, they are cold. However, these ashes can quickly reignite and cause a serious problem.

At the same time, Jarvis said people who have been monitoring their burn piles may see no fire activity in the pile for an extended period and assume the fire has completely extinguished itself. However, under the right conditions (a drop in humidity and a change in wind direction/speed for example), the pile can quickly reignite and spread if left unattended.