Naperville buying 'Firebox' to burn fall leaves
It's called an "Air Burner Refractory Lined Firebox," and it's about to be the Naperville public works department's newest piece of equipment.
"It looks just like a 30-yard Dumpster," Naperville Public Works Director Dick Dublinski says about the device, basically a wood-burning incinerator that reaches 1,700 degrees.
The city council on Tuesday night allowed Dublinski to buy the $155,034 incinerator from Florida-based Air Burners Inc. to use this fall to burn leaves collected during three yearly pickups.
The city collects roughly 117,000 large trash bins worth of leaves each season and trucks them to nearby farm fields, where they're spread out to decompose.
But Dublinski said farms are becoming farther afield as the southwest side of the city completes its development. It costs $250,000 to bring a year's worth of leaves to the fields and an additional $75,000 if the fields are wet and lighter trucks need to be used to spread them.
The new incinerator will provide a cheaper way to get rid of fallen leaves within its first year in use as it reduces them to ash.
"The odor is minimal and the smoke is minimal," Dublinski said.
The incinerator's extreme heat -- plus a current of air above the fire -- prevents 90 percent of the burned leaf particles inside from being released into the air as smoke, Dublinski said. The average campfire releases 80 to 90 percent of what it burns as smoke, he said.
Incinerator use is regulated by a permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, so the city must notify residents of when the firebox will be fired up.
"There are a lot of people with allergies and that (burning) can be very problematic for them," council member Patty Gustin said.
The city plans to start the fire in the incinerator using large logs from roughly 800 trees city crews cut down each year. The device operates using very little fuel -- only enough to power a fan to bring oxygen to the blaze.
Two public works employees will operate the incinerator at the city's Springbrook Water Reclamation Center at Plainfield/Naperville Road and 103rd Street to ensure safety as the city aims to burn between 50 and 80 percent of the leaves it collects this fall. The rest will be taken to a farm field as usual.
"It sounds so counterintuitive that burning leaves is better than doing something else with them," council member Judith Brodhead said.
But Mayor Steve Chirico said the process will bring benefits in lower costs, less fuel use for carting leaves to faraway farms, and less risk, staff time and wear and tear on city equipment.