Frequently Asked Questions

Burning and the 4 p.m. Law

Understand the Outdoor Fire Laws (PDF brochure)

Find out if there is a local burning restriction in your area.

  1. What is the 4 p.m. Law?
  2. When is the 4 p.m. Law in effect?
  3. Why is there a 4 p.m. Law?
  4. Why 4 o'clock?
  5. What is the main cause of wildfires in Virginia?
  6. How many wildfires burn in Virginia each year and how many acres are burned?
  7. Can I have a campfire if I put rocks around it?
  8. If I take all precautions with my fire after 4 p.m. and it does escape and start a fire, am I responsible for the suppression cost?
  9. What is the penalty for violating the 4 p.m. Law?
  10. Can I use my charcoal or gas fire fired barbeque grill?
  11. Are building contractors and road construction jobs exempt from the 4 p.m. law?
  12. Why are some people allowed to have open air fires before 4 PM when they are within 300 feet of the woods?
  13. Can I use a fire pit when the 4 PM Law is in effect?

What is the 4 p.m. Law?
The 4 p.m. Law is a ban (or restriction) on open air burning before 4 o'clock in the afternoon if your fire is within 300 feet of the woods or dry grass which can carry the fire to the woods. You are allowed to burn between 4 p.m and midnight as long as you take proper care and precaution and attend your fire at all times.

When is the 4 p.m. Law in effect?
The law goes into effect on February 15th each year and runs through April 30th.

Why is there a 4 p.m. Law?
The 4 p.m. Law was adopted during the 1940's to reduce the number of wildfires which occurred each spring. During this time of the year, Virginia traditionally has an increased number of fires. During the winter months, winds are usually elevated, the relative humidity is lower and the fuels on the forest floor are extremely dry, having "cured" without having the tree leaves to shade them.

Why 4 o'clock?
After 4 p.m., winds usually calm down and the relative humidity levels are on the increase, both of which reduce the potential for a debris fire or any outdoor open air fire to escape your control.

What is the main cause of wildfires in Virginia?
Debris burning is the Number One cause of wildfires, closely followed by intentionally set or "arson" fires.

How many wildfires burn in Virginia each year and how many acres are burned?

Virginia has records which date back to 1925, and our 30 year average is 1,449 fires for 8,338 acres per year. 1941 saw the most fires with 3,697, and 1930 had the most acreage burned at 333,023 acres.

Can I have a campfire if I put rocks around it?

No. Campfires are considered an open air fire. A recreational fire such as a campfire MAY be approved IF it meets ALL the following. The fire is completely contained within a ring of rocks, cinderblocks, metal ring or similar device and also covered by a ¼” or smaller metal screen. A fire built in a pit with a similar metal screen may also be approved. In all cases the fire must be attended at all times and an extra precaution should be taken by clearing a 20 foot area around the “fire” from all flammable material. Ready access to water, rake and shovel should also be provided for. Fires built in commercially available chiminea’s or fire pits are not considered to be open air fires and therefore legal IF they are complete and in good condition to prevent the spread of fire to surrounding areas. You should check with local authorities and or the VA Dept of Forestry if you have any concerns or questions.

If I take all precautions with my fire after 4 p.m. and it does escape and start a fire, am I responsible for the suppression cost?
Yes. Although you may have taken all proper precautions and obtained any locally required permits, whoever started the fire is responsible should the fire escape.

What is the penalty for violating the 4 p.m. law?
Violation of the 4 p.m. law is a Class 3 misdemeanor with a fine of not more than $500.

Can I use my charcoal or gas fire fired barbeque grill?
Yes. However, you must take proper care and precaution by clearing all flammable material from around it and you must stay with it until it is completely extinguished or turned off.

Are building contractors and road construction jobs exempt from the 4 p.m. law?
No. However, if the burning operations are greater than 300 feet from the woods or flammable grass/vegetation which would allow the fire to spread to the woods the 4 p.m. law does not apply.

Why are some people allowed to have open air fires before 4 PM when they are within 300 feet of the woods?

The 4PM Law provides for some exceptions to the regulations. Vineyards and orchard owners are allowed to set fires in an attempt to protect their crops from damaging frost. Virginia Certified Prescribed Burn Managers who have applied for and were granted an exemption are allowed to use a prescribed fire under specific and pre-approved conditions for very specific resource management objectives. These management objectives are:

  • Control of exotic and invasive plant species that cannot be accomplished at other times of the year.
  • Establishment and maintenance of wildlife habitat that cannot be accomplished at other times of the year.
  • Necessary management of natural heritage resources.

Can I use a fire pit when the 4 PM Law is in effect?

Yes, if certain precautions are taken to cover and contain the fire. The 4 PM Burning Law applies to open-air burning, which means any outdoor fire that is not covered and/or contained within non-flammable barriers.

For example, a typical campfire is considered an open-air fire. However, an open-air fire MAY be acceptable if it meets the following criteria: it is completely contained within a ring of rocks, cinderblocks, metal ring, or a similar device and is covered by a ¼” or smaller metal screen.

If these criteria are met, the fire still must be attended at all times, and all flammable material should be cleared from a 20-foot area around the fire. Campers must also have ready access to water, rake and shovel.

Fires built in commercially available chimineas or fire pits are not considered open-air fires and are therefore legal, IF they are in good condition to prevent the spread of fire to surrounding areas. Check with local authorities and/or VDOF with any concerns or questions.

Last modified: Tuesday, 09-Feb-2021 12:38:49 EST