Tons of downed trees are being ground into mulch as cleanup efforts following the tornado move forward.
Trunks and limbs that felled power lines, crashed onto houses and blocked roads are being collected and removed by a private contractor, DTS, and carried to central locations for recycling, according to local officials.
"Natural occurring wood, trees and brush should be placed near the road for pickup,"Catoosa County Manager Mike Helton said.
Debris is being hauled to the county's industrial park at Holcomb Road and Alabama Highway for processing where truckloads of tangled trees are hoisted into a giant shredder and turned into a mountain of mulch. A similar site, functioning much like a transfer station, is in place on a Cherokee Valley farm.
Separating naturally occurring wood from wood products is necessary due to concerns about potential environmental damage from chemicals used in manufactured and treated building materials.
"Demolition or any man-made debris should be placed in a separate pile rather than with the trees and brush," said Ringgold City Manager Dan Wright.
Man-made products are hauled to a landfill site for disposal, according to officials, which is both costly and time consuming. If natural wood scraps are commingled with manufactured products, all are considered contaminated and are trucked away for burial.
Helton said the state has given affected areas a 30-day exemption from the seasonal open burning ban that went into effect on May 1, but residents are being asked to have debris carted away rather than burning it.
"We are working to make the disposal burn free by providing pickup countywide," he said. "We encourage residents to take advantage of that opportunity."
Smoke from smouldering brush piles could contribute to air quality non-attainment or reduce visibility to unsafe levels, according to officials. There is also the potential for open burns, even with proper permits having been obtained, that quickly could become difficult- or impossible-to-contain wildfires.
Cleanup efforts that focused first on trees and brush are expected to continue through the coming months, officials said.
"The contractor has done an excellent job in the wood debris removal and has already started to pick up the construction debris," Wright said.