Air curtain destructors to be required for open burns in Columbia

Monday, July 21, 2014 | 10:08 p.m. CDT; updated 8:42 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2014

COLUMBIA — Developers clearing land in Columbia will now be required to use devices known as air curtain destructors when performing open burns.

The Columbia City Council voted unanimously Monday evening to withdraw proposed changes to the city's open burning ordinance. In place of the ordinance changes, the Columbia Fire Department will adopt an internal policy requiring an air curtain destructor be used on any open burn that calls for a Missouri Department of Natural Resources permit.

Air curtain destructors are placed over an open burn and function similar to large exhaust hoods. Vacuums in the air curtain inhale and filter the smoke and release cleaner emissions in the air.

A report issued by the Columbia Fire Department at the July 7 council meeting outlined suggested changes to City Council bill 101-14, which would place increased restrictions on open burning on development sites.

The report recommended maintaining the current definition of open burning and requiring a permit for any fire with a fuel area of larger than 3 feet wide and 2 feet high. Fires smaller than this are considered recreational fires. The responsibility for inspecting and permitting open burns would remain with the Fire Department.

The Fire Department report also recommended requiring the use of an air curtain destructor for any open burn performed to remove the vegetative waste from clearing an area of 1 acre or greater. 

Air curtain destructors will be required for open burns performed within 200 yards of the nearest inhabited dwelling for land-clearing operations smaller than 1 acre.

"The air curtain will be required for essentially all land-clearing operations," said Battalion Chief Brad Fraizer of the Columbia Fire Department. 

"It negates the need for an ordinance," said Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe.

The council initially weighed a proposed set of changes in April. Community complaints about the health effects of large open burns within Columbia's city limits had prompted Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe to raise the issue in 2011. Columbia residents with respiratory issues had complained of irritation when open burning was allowed, particularly during the construction of The Grove apartment complex.

The burning regulations proposed in April would have amended Chapter 9 of the city code to give the council power to regulate air pollution, contaminants and toxic emissions. It would "prohibit large-scale open burning unless the prospect for harm and risk of fire is minimized," and other methods for disposing of waste wood have been exhausted.

The Fire Department partnered with Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services to host an interested-party meeting on May 22. Developers, contractors and other concerned citizens, including Don Stamper of the Central Missouri Development Council, voiced complaints about the proposal. Developers argued the ban would limit their options for disposing of waste wood and increase the cost of land clearing.

"The changes were motivated by community feedback, including from developers," Fraizer said. "It won't limit the number of fires, but it will reduce the amount of smoke."

The Fire Department's recommendations would address the health concerns created by the smoke from the open burns, said Andrea Waner of the Health Department.

The council read and discussed the Fire Department report at its July 7 meeting.

The use of an air curtain destructor "greatly reduces the amount of smoke that escapes the open burn," City Manager Mike Matthes said at the meeting. "It wouldn't be open burning as we have done in the past."

Three or four local contractors already own and regularly use air curtain destructors, according to the meeting minutes for the interested-parties meeting.

"The health issue and the clean air concerns will be addressed by the internal (Fire Department) policy," Hoppe said at Monday's council meeting. Hoppe has asked the city's sustainability manager to look at other cities for best practices and more sustainable uses of wood from land clearing operations.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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Ellis Smith July 22, 2014 | 6:59 a.m.

Interesting. Would a photo of such a device in use be available? It wouldn't have to be a photo of its use in Columbia, but rather as currently used elsewhere. I suspect there are Columbia residents who would find that interesting, and so would I.

Also, it's noted that there's an objection to using this method due to increased cost. Well, what ARE the projected costs? Obviously they could have some relation to the size of the area being burned, so that should also be noted if costs are given.

(Report Comment)
Matthew Schacht July 22, 2014 | 1:19 p.m.

I'm curious about what the city's rule requiring air curtains means for agricultural and forest burns within city limits. Groups like the Association of Fire Ecology (AFE) often employ trained volunteers for controlled burns. With the added cost of an air curtain, do these nonprofit burns become unaffordable for small landowners?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 22, 2014 | 3:36 p.m.

Okay, I located a description, as well as the appearance of one of these units, online, from Air Burners Inc.

The unit captures effluent smoke from burning wood waste and recirculates it so as to reburn the larger particles.
You aren't removing all particulate matter, mainly larger particles, but you do get more complete burning.

Industrially this is done by using fixed, enclosed units in the exhaust streams created from burning various fuels. The units tend to be either what's called electrostatic precipitators or else non-electrostatic "scrubbers," and they're designed to take as close to ALL particles out of the exhaust stream as possible. None are 100% efficient, but some come close.

(Report Comment)

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