TABERNASH - On a warm, slightly windy day in June, contractors are in the process burning some 600 yards of beetle-kill slash in a single day.
Directly across the street, golfers on the 12th hole of Pole Creek Golf Course barely notice what's happening. There's the faint pleasant smell of burning wood in the air, like a distant chimney, but no sign of the smoke or ash normally associated with large burns, and no almost no sound.
This is the test project for a new piece of equipment, conceived, designed and built entirely in Grand County.
Invented by retired Grand Lake firefighter and former Grand County building inspector Kevin Cole, and financed by construction contractor Rick Hensley of Fraser, the "Slash-erator" Contained Burn Unit offers an eco-friendly solution for disposing of the slash piles and debris left behind by logging and tree removal.
The Dumpster-sized metal boxes, made of 4-gauge steel, include a large metal collection tray on the bottom and a 500-pound grated steel lid that can be closed when the fire is unattended. Strategically placed grated steel holes in the sides and bottom create a patent-pending drafting system that allows enough internal air flow, circulation and heat to incinerate almost all air particles without assistance from mechanical parts, engines or motors.
One set of holes creates the draft, the other creates the vortex, Hensley said: "It's basically a burn barrel on steroids."
Ice Box Welding, Fraser Crane and Conroy Excavating aided in bringing the units into operation, Hensley said. Local fire departments and county officials offered feedback and advice during the initial phases of design and testing.
Forest fire in a box
Safer than an open burn pile, cheaper than a grinder and less costly than an air curtain burner, the Slash-erator possess the three basic elements needed to create any good forest fire, Cole said: fuel, air and heat.
Weighing only 9,500 pounds, (compared to about 35,000 pounds for an air curtain burner), the Slash-erator can be hauled easily into remote logging sites and set up at staging areas to process limbs, twigs, stumps, trunks and debris. It can also be dragged across a site on its rails or air-lifted into remote areas.
And, unlike air curtain burners, these units eliminate the need for extensive repairs, fueling expenses and interruptions due to equipment failure and maintenance.
Using a gallon of diesel fuel for starter fluid and a weed burner to light it, the fire box quickly reaches temperatures of 500 degrees and emits almost no smoke or ash. The bottom of the unit stays cooler than the middle, preventing it from scorching the earth below and allowing grass and flowers to rejuvenate more quickly.
Small carbon footprint
The Slash-erator traps the majority of the carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere through smoke or decay in its ash pan, which can be emptied weekly after it has cooled over the weekend. The ash byproduct can then be sold as fertilizer and soil enhancer.
Because of the contained design and safety features, the Grand County Department of Natural Resources has licensed the Slash-erator for year-round burning with no blackout days for wind or air quality. Open piles, on the other hand, are limited to burning between the months of November and April, and then only on approved burn days with short windows of time.
An added bonus for logging contractors is that the slash piles can be burned immediately in the Slash-erator, in almost any weather, rather than sitting for a year per the state's requirement prior to an open burn.
A size for every need
A variety of sizes are available to accommodate anything from large forest logging operations to single family homeowners looking to clear their property of debris. The units can be purchased wholesale, rented or hired for a full-service burn.
Hensley is offering an 8-by-8-by-24 foot unit with a 56-yard capacity; a 5-by-7-by-22 model with a 30-yard capacity; and a 6-by-6-by-12 model with a 16-yard capacity. The largest unit can accommodate up to 20-foot sections of trunk and sells wholesale for about $28,000. The smallest unit, which is still in production, is available for rent and is ideal for residential properties.
When the units are worn out or no longer needed they can be recycled for the valuable scrap metal, Hensley said.
Hensley intends to market the product nationwide and has arranged demonstrations with the U.S. Forest Service and several municipalities in coming weeks.
Job opportunities for others
To demonstrate the power of the Slash-erator, Hensley looked for some of the county's worst slash piles, landing on a site with more than 50 towering piles of slash mixed with wet dirt.
Running two units 8 hours a day, Hensley expected to run through 8,000 yards of slash in about two weeks for one-tenth the cost of a grinder. Hiring a grinder can run $1,000 per hour. The Slash-erator can be rented for $500 to $1,000 for an entire day.
Hensley and Cole hope the Slash-erator will not only create jobs for Hensley's company but for contractors with large equipment and other companies looking for ways to make money in a slow economy.
The benefit, Hensley adds, is that the county will become a safer, cleaner place for residents and tourists.
"The lack of smoke filling the valley and clinging to the mountains will allow visitors to better enjoy recreating in Grand County and will facilitate in the beautification and restoration of the mountains and roadsides around the county," he said.
It's safer, cleaner, easier, cheaper and entirely recyclable; it's good for the environment, good for the county, good for the economy and good for tourism; Cole said: "It's all positive."
- Reid Armstrong can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610 or email@example.com.