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February, 2014

Safe Habits Prevent Wood Ash Fires

As smoke rises from chimneys, officials with the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) are on the lookout for smoke from other sources. Household fires produce leftover ash; when improperly disposed of, this ash can cause a wildland fire.

“During the winter months, with cold weather all day long, wood stoves may be burning continuously. Ashes are dumped more frequently, and that increases the fire risk,” said Derek Keiser, VDOF technician in Amherst, Campbell and Nelson counties. “Wood ashes retain their heat for several days, enough to ignite the dry grass or other combustible materials nearby.” High winds can uncover the still-hot embers and start a wildland fire. Investigations have traced the source of fires back to ash piles, some a week old.

To reduce the risk of this potentially serious threat, follow these steps to cool down wood ash completely and prevent hot wood ash from igniting forest, field and structural fires:

  • DO keep ashes in a metal container that can be tightly closed with a metal lid.
  • DO teach other family members about the dangers associated with hot ash disposal.
  • DO NOT dispose of ashes in paper, plastic or cardboard containers.
  • DO NOT dump loads of wood ashes into one pile. The pile can retain heat and insulate embers for long periods of time.
  • DO NOT assume the ashes are cold and pour them onto the ground or into a hole. Leaves can blow onto them or the wind can stir up sparks.
  • DO NOT place ashes in a dumpster. Hot ashes could ignite a fire with material already in the dumpster.
  • DO NOT store your metal ash container on your home’s deck, in your garage or in any location that may allow heat to transfer from those hot ashes to nearby flammable items.

Wood ash, once completely cooled, can safely be dumped. To properly dispose of hot ashes, pour the ashes into the metal container. Soak the ashes with water. Place the metal lid securely on the container. Put the closed container outside your home away from combustible materials. Store ashes in the container for several days.

Once you are POSITIVE the ashes in your container are “cold,” spread them in a garden or a gravel driveway and then prepare your container for the next load.

Dry Hydrants Keep Firefighters Wet

Dry fire hydrants are a real and valuable tool for firefighters. A dry fire hydrant is a non-pressurized pipe system permanently installed in existing lakes, ponds and streams that provides a suction supply of water to a fire department truck. These vehicles attach hoses to a dry fire hydrant and pump water out for use at a fire.

Communities can apply now for grant funding from VDOF to add a dry fire hydrant to their area. Last year, the number of grant requests far exceeded the number that can be approved with the available funding.

The Dry Fire Hydrant Grant Program application deadline is March 31. For more information on Dry Fire Hydrants, visit

No Burning Before 4 p.m. Until April 30

The Commonwealth’s 4 p.m. Burning Law goes into effect Feb. 15th – the start of spring fire season in Virginia. The law prohibits burning before 4 p.m. each day until April 30th if the fire is in, or within 300 feet of, woodland, brushland or fields containing dry grass or other flammable materials.

“This law is one of the most effective tools we have to prevent wildfires,” said 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 burning between 4 p.m. and midnight only, people are less likely to start a fire that threatens them, their property and the forests of Virginia.”

In addition to open burning large piles of leaves and yard waste, debris burning in metal barrels as been the source of wildland fires this year.

“If flames and sparks are flying out of the barrel, that increases the chance they’ll land in dry grass or leaves and start a wild fire,” said Paul Reier, technician in New Kent County. “Be sure the barrel is secure and won’t tip over, causing the fire to spill out. Stay with the debris barrel while the fire is burning, and be sure to properly and safely dispose of the ashes.” Reier adds that metal barrels should be in good condition – not weak with rust or full of holes. A mesh wire screen, with openings of ¼” or less, should cover the top of the barrel.

A violation of the 4 p.m. law is a Class 3 misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine. In addition to the criminal violation, those who allow a fire to escape are liable for the cost of suppressing the fire as well as any damage caused to others’ property.

To learn more about how to protect yourself and your property, visit

Arrest Made in Arson Case

Wildland fire investigators suspected that two wildfires that burned in Carroll County were the work of one or more arsonists. Officials with the Virginia State Police (VSP) arrested Bobby Eugene Wagner Jr, age 18, on two counts of arson.

The arrest stems from two fires in the area of Double Cabin Road and Buckhorn Road in Carroll County. The Hillsville Fire Department responded to the area January 26 to battle a brush fire there and returned to the same location the next day in response to a smaller fire. The circumstances led fire department officials to request an investigation.

VDOF and VSP personnel, including a VSP bloodhound named “Sherlock,” tracked from the scene to a residence, where the canine alerted on Wagner when he came outside to meet the officers. Wagner was subsequently arrested on two counts of arson, destruction of property, obstruction of justice, trespassing and two game violations.

VDOF Centennial Can Make You A Winner

As part of the VDOF's 100th Anniversary as a State Agency, we partnered with the Virginia Lottery on a new scratch-off game that debuted Feb. 4th. The new game is called “Money, Money, Money” and features the VDOF shield and a message about the anniversary on the reverse.

The $5 ticket offers 16 chances to win and has a top prize of $150,000. Tickets went on sale at Lottery retailers across Virginia on Tuesday. Lucky visitors to the Virginia General Assembly building this week had an opportunity to spin a wheel with one of the prizes being a “Money, Money, Money” ticket. More than 220 people won tickets there. “We had several $5, $15, $25 and $50 winning tickets this week, so the big money is still out there,“ said VDOF's John Campbell. “Proceeds from ticket sales support Virginia's public schools, so we're honored to be partnering with the Virginia Lottery on this scratch-off game in celebration of our centennial.“

Tree Care Workshop to be held in Roanoke

The 14th annual Roanoke Tree Care Workshop will take place from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 5, 2014 at Virginia Western Community College (VWCC).

This year’s workshop will feature presentations on topics as diverse as “Can Forests Take the Heat?” “Insects and Disease Problems are Big… Even Bigger Under a Microscope” to “Emerald Ash Borer Readiness and Response Planning” and “Urban Tree Canopy Conservation and Enhancement in Virginia” All the speakers are experts in their fields and will give an in depth entertaining, educational presentation.

Registration is due by Feb. 27, 2014.  General registration is $75 with lower rates available for municipal employees, non-profit groups and students.  General registration after February 27 and walk-in registration is $85.

For more information, please contact Becky Woodson at 434.220.9024 or, or to register go to

Tree seedlings selling fast; order yours before they’re gone

Each year, the VDOF grows and sells more than 24 million tree seedlings. And every year, many of the more than 40 species sell out before the harvest season ends April 30. If you are looking to plant tree seedlings or reforest your land this year, you still have a few weeks remaining to order your seedlings. But don’t wait too much longer as several species, including Wild Plum and Loblolly Pine (all varieties), have already sold out. Online orders are accepted until April 23.

Seedlings are available in quantities as low as 10 or 25; these small quantities can be beneficial to landowners of modest-size forested tracts. Order yours today by visiting; calling the Augusta Forestry Center at 540.363.7000, or contacting your local VDOF office.

Retirement Luncheon to Honor Carl Garrison

Plans are underway to honor former State Forester Carl Garrison. Due to the large number of people we expect to attend, there will be two identical luncheons – one on Monday, Feb. 24 and the other Thursday, Feb. 27. You must choose which date you want to attend and reservations are first come, first served. Seating is limited to 140 people at each luncheon.

Both luncheons will take place from 12 noon to 1:30 p.m. and will take place at the American Legion Hall, 3025 Louisa Road, Keswick, Va. (Exit 124 off I-64 approximately four miles east of Charlottesville at the intersection of Routes 250 and 22).

Menu: Choice of Grilled Chicken or Barbeque, Baked Beans, Cole Slaw, Macaroni Salad, Scalloped Potatoes, Cake, Cookies, Iced Tea, Lemonade, Assorted Soft Drinks and Bottled Water.

Cost is $11 per person. Please make your check payable to John Campbell and send to the Virginia Department of Forestry, 900 Natural Resources Drive, Suite 800, Charlottesville, VA 22903. Reservations and payment must be received by Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014.

DOF Personnel News

Andrew Brown, senior area forester for the Headwaters work area in the Western Region, is leaving VDOF to accept a position with Plum Creek in Lynchburg.

Debbie Howe, director of Human Resources, is leaving VDOF to accept a position as a human resources consultant with the Virginia Department of Human Resources Management.

Danny Roberts, a technician in the Mattaponi work area in the Eastern Region, is retiring after 44 years with VDOF. He is currently the longest-serving active VDOF employee.