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Cleaner Air through Cleaner Burning

Hood River Fruit Growers See Progress with Burn Box

Producer Profile

Name: Cindy Collins, Astrion, Inc.
Location: Hood River, Oregon
NRCS Program: Conservation Innovation Grant

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"The burn box burns really clean, and it’s good for the environment that you’re not putting that much smoke into the air." -- Cindy Collins

Watch the four-minute video on YouTube 

See more photos from the Hood River Air Quality Project on Flickr

 

Most mornings when Cindy Collins wakes up and looks out at her 46-acre orchard—with Mt. Adams towering in the background—she feels like she’s at summer camp.

“Most of us who live here in the valley can’t imagine a prettier place to live with our mountains,” Cindy said. “I just really appreciate the peace and the beauty of the valley. It’s like I’m at summer camp 365 days a year.”

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A section of cleared ground from when Cindy removed a stand of aged cherry trees. She burned the wood safely and cleanly using an air curtain burner that was paid for with a grant from NRCS. Photos by Tracy Robillard.

Like her neighbors, Cindy believes that preserving the beauty and vitality of the Hood River Valley is paramount. That’s why she’s teaming up with 20 fruit growers to adopt cleaner ways to operate their orchards and reduce air pollution.

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Above: Hood River fruit growers use an air curtain burner-- commonly called a burn box--to safely and cleanly burn pruned trimmings and diseased wood. The burn box was purchased through a Conservation Innovation Grant with NRCS in partnership with the Columbia Gorge Fruit Growers and Hood River County. Courtesy images.

Over the last two growing seasons, Cindy and other fruit growers in the valley are using an air curtain burner—commonly referred to as a burn box—to safely and cleanly burn their orchard pruning wood.

The burn box was purchased in 2014 with a Conservation Innovation Grant funded by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, in partnership with the Columbia Gorge Fruit Growers and Hood River County.

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Cindy Collins, a pear and cherry orchardist in Hood River, Oregon; and Carly Heron, NRCS district conservationist, look at the remaining ash left from the burn box. Since the machine burns extremely clean, it only leaves behind a few inches of ash. Photo by Tracy Robillard.

“We started with the air curtain burner last year, so we’ve used it for two seasons now,” Cindy said. “We got our feet wet with it last year and burned all of the large pruning wood that we generated from the orchard. And then this year, I took out a block of mature cherry trees, so we burned all the wood there with the exception of the stumps, which are a little too big to go into the burner.”

Compared to traditional burn piles, the burn box produces little to no smoke and significantly reduces the amount of particulates being discharged into the air. In fact, NRCS estimates that in 2015 alone, Hood River fruit growers eliminated 1.35 tons of particulate matter from entering the air by using the burn box instead of open-pile burning.

“As the fire’s going on the inside, this fan is blowing air across the top to re-circulate the smoke so that any particulate matter that’s coming off the fire is being re-burned,” said Carly Heron, NRCS district conservationist. “So everything is being really cleanly burned, and there’s no smoke, no particulate matter or anything being released to the air—just like a really clean EPA-burning wood stove.”

“The burn box allows us to burn during the summer months where normally there’s a burn ban on piles,” Cindy said. “It’s a useful tool. It burns really clean, and it’s good for the environment that you’re not putting that much smoke into the air.”

As part of the NRCS grant, Cindy and her neighbors fill out detailed data sheets each time they use the burn box. NRCS and the Columbia Gorge Fruit Growers use the data to track usage of the machine and the reduction in air pollution. The data will also help determine if a larger scale, county-wide project could be viable.

“It’s really amazing when you get done burning,” Cindy said. “We had trailer loads of wood coming up to be burned. And then once the burner leaves, there’s just maybe three or four inches of ash that’s left on the ground, so there’s very little left. It burns very clean.”

Cindy is no stranger to NRCS. She bought her neighbor’s property in 2012 and worked with NRCS to convert to more efficient irrigation systems. NRCS paid for a significant portion of the cost to install the system.

“NRCS has been great,” Cindy said. “They’re always looking for ways to help us protect the environment here in the valley, and they bring in money to support these efforts.”

Download a printable copy (5.68 MB)

Published May 2016 by NRCS Oregon.
Story and photos by Tracy Robillard.