The Virginia Department of Forestry (DOF) is charged with the protection of Virginia’s forest resources from fire. The principal goals of the agency’s resource protection program are to prevent injury or loss of human life, minimize property damage, and protect resources. The DOF has a well-defined and organized team, with every member of the agency having fire responsibilities.
The ability to adapt to emergencies enables a small formal fire suppression force to limit annual fire losses to an average of 700 fires which burn just under 9,500 acres (10-year average). Each year in Virginia, more than 60 homes and other structures are damaged or destroyed by wildland fire, although agency suppression efforts are credited with directly protecting more than 460 homes and 280 other structures, collectively worth more than 60 million dollars.
Virginia’s leading cause of wildfire is escaped debris burning. DOF’s focus on safe outdoor burning, fire prevention, and forest fire law enforcement is specifically focused to minimize the annual threats caused by careless outdoor burning.
Although wildfires occur throughout the year, Virginia’s heaviest period of wildfire activity is in the spring and fall. In the spring, vegetation still dormant from the winter provides a ready fuel source. As temperatures rise, conditions become more favorable for fires to start and spread. The opposite occurs in the fall. Frost-killed vegetation and fallen leaves increase the availability of forest fuels. Combined with warmer temperatures and breezy days, Virginia again sees conditions ripe for wildfire spread, at least until temperatures finally cool down with the onset of winter.
Virginia’s 4 PM Burning Law is specifically designed to limit outdoor burning in the spring. In effect from February 15 through April 30, the law prohibits burning each day, until after 4:00 p.m. Postponing outdoor burning until the late afternoon means decreasing potential for a fire to spread – temperature is lower, humidity is higher, and winds are typically calmer. Virginia’s 4 PM Burning Law is credited with the prevention of numerous wildfires each year.
Finally, it is also very important to note that the DOF’s wildfire suppression success is only possible through close coordination with local fire departments, forest industry and both federal and state response agencies. The agency works closely with wildland fire suppression cooperators throughout the Commonwealth, providing training, support, and cooperation to ensure the safety of Virginia’s citizens and natural resources.