RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginians looking to start bonfires or burn debris will soon have to use extra precautions and pay attention to the time when the state Burning Law goes into effect next week.

Virginia’s 4 p.m. Burning Law will go into effect on Wednesday, Feb. 15 and continue until April 30. The annual Burning Law bans open-air burning before 4 p.m. within 300 feet of the woods or dry grass. However, burning is still allowed after 4 p.m. with proper precautions, and open burnings are permitted if they are more than 300 feet away from the woods or flammable grass.

The 4 p.m. Burning Law dates back to the 1940s and is meant to reduce wildfires in the late winter and early spring, when they are most common in Virginia. This season is prime for wildfire conditions due to higher winds, lower humidity and the dry conditions of forests. After 4 p.m., winds start to die down and it becomes more humid, making it less likely for fires to get out of control.

The Burning Law only applies to open burning, which is an outdoor fire that is not covered or contained within non-flammable barriers, like a ring of rocks or a metal screen. Even with a non-flammable barrier, a fire still must be attended at all times. Extra precautions are also encouraged, such as clearing any flammable materials within 20 feet of the fire and keeping water, a rake and a shovel on hand.

Fires in chimineas or fire pits in good condition are not considered open-air fires and are therefore legal. So are fires used for charcoal or gas-fired grills.

Even with proper precautions and permits, you can still be held responsible if a fire you started gets out of control and causes damages. According to the Department of Forestry, violation of the 4 p.m. Burning Law is a Class 3 misdemeanor with a fine of up to $500.

More information about the 4 p.m. Burning Law and the Code of Virginia laws regarding burning are available online.

While the 4 p.m. Burning Law offers some baseline rules across the state, some counties and cities have more restrictive regulations. If you are looking to burn something, check with your locality for restrictions and any required permits before you start.