CLEVELAND, Tenn.-Truckloads of brush debris from the April 27 tornadoes and storms here are keeping Bradley County's fire pits burning.
Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency closed some of the region's disaster relief centers Friday.
Big trucks filled with massive tree trunks, tree limbs and branches, all cut and loaded in storm-damaged neighborhoods, constantly turn into an unmarked site in the Cleveland/Bradley Industrial Park. They pass beside a wooden tower where True North Recovery employees look down into the truck beds to ensure the debris meets FEMA regulations.
True North won a competitive bid to monitor debris removal so the county can be reimbursed for 75 percent of the cost by FEMA.
The trucks are unloaded by heavy equipment onto a mountain of tree parts. Heavy shovels grip the debris and drop it into one of two air-fed fire pits where the wood flares and smolders.
The method is called curtain burning, as opposed to open burning, said Wayne Hargrove with Unified Recovery Group, the contractor clearing storm debris from Bradley County neighborhoods.
"This method cuts down on air pollution [and] helps the air quality," he said as he drove to the burn area.
Trenches are dug deep and then filled with debris. Equipment designed for the work forces air into the trenches to keep the fires going.
The ashes will be trucked to the county landfill.
"This is why, on the street, the debris has to be separated," Hargrove said. "This has to stay a clean burn to meet EPA rules."
If other types of debris were mixed in, he said, the storm-clearing process would be slower.
Dan Howell, executive assistant to County Mayor D. Gary Davis, said Friday the cleanup is ahead of schedule.
People still ask about piles of trash and debris left behind, he said. The removal company will make at least a second, and perhaps a third, pass through each neighborhood, Howell said, to allow property owners to move debris to the rights of way. The contractor cannot go onto private property, he said.
Hargrove said the pace of work at the burn site may increase this weekend, since some large groups of church volunteers are expected to help property owners get debris to the roadsides.
Meanwhile, FEMA closed its assistance center at Cleveland State Community College as well as one in McMinn and another in Hamilton counties. The main assistance center on Church Street remains open and still is processing about 25 claims a day, officials said.