MOORHEAD — For three years, Moorhead officials have been working on a long-term solution to the city’s overabundance of wood waste — the same material that recently fueled a large fire at the city's compost yard.

The blaze started July 17 and burned for 24 hours. The fire was still smoldering on Monday, July 27.

City officials believe the best option for dealing with the excess wood waste would be to purchase an air curtain wood burner to burn wood rather than letting it accumulate or using it for wood chips.

"Chipping it doesn’t solve the problem as there is no aftermarket for low quality wood chips without trucking it for hundreds of miles," Public Works Director Steve Moore told The Forum on Monday. "We give away as many wood chips as we can, but our supply far outweighs our demand."

Purchasing the burner, which is expected to cost $172,062, requires approval from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).

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"We prepared the permit and submitted it to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on June 10," Moore said. "The process for approval will take 6-9 months."

The 238-page application met the MPCA’s application requirements and is now subject to the agency’s review, Moore said. The MPCA did not provide a time-frame for the completion of the review.

Moore plans to buy the burner early next year. He expects delivery will take four to six weeks and that he'll receive the permit around the time the burner arrives.

Fire Chief Rich Duysen said he believes the cause of this month's fire was "spontaneous combustion caused by heat from the decomposition of the organic materials."

"This is a fairly common cause when piles are large ... and air is introduced to the core of the pile either by wind or moving the material or both," Duysen said.

Shortly after arriving at the compost yard near U.S. Highway 75 North at about 4:30 p.m. July 17, city crews determined the fire could not be extinguished, according to a report on the blaze that Moore provided at the Moorhead City Council meeting on Monday.

Councilwoman Deb White said the fire highlighted the fact the city needs a permanent solution for waste wood.

Roughly 75% of the wood chips have burned, Moore told The Forum. Temperatures from the burning wood chips exceeded 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The department installed culverts and grain fans to reduce smoke and speed up the burning since personnel could not directly combat the fire.

The fire is expected to continue to burn for several more weeks. Crews have been turning smoldering compost and grass piles to mitigate smoke and odor issues and the city hired two bulldozers to clean the site, Moore said.

Moore estimated 168,000 cubic yards of wood waste, spanning roughly 3.5 acres, burned in the fire. “If we stay on top of that wood waste, we won’t have that big pile out there waiting to ignite,” he said.