Burn barrels are a very nasty subject. Most communities outlaw them.
Nevertheless, in a true emergency, you are going to have to keep matters in perspective.
Burn barrels are made from fifty-five gallon drums, hopefully those that did not contain any sort of toxic or poisonous substance. Amazingly, you can purchase unused steel barrels for an emergency! That is the best idea. Buy some for your community emergency disaster stockpile. Don't use used barrels.
To use a burn barrel you can't just throw in debri.
You need to cut out a portion of the bottom of the barrel. Eight inches by four inches works. Or maybe nine by six. I'm easy. You can cut this out with a torch or a cold chisel. The idea is to provide a draft from the bottom and a means to insert a shovel and remove the ash without tipping the barrel. A steel wheelbarrow is handy to remove the ash.
So for your stockpile of supplies you need a shovel, a barrel and a wheelbarrow.
You may also want to drill or punch a half-dozen one inch holes around the circumferance of the barrel four inches up from the bottom.
Now comes another suggestion.
Provide a "grill" that the debri will rest on, insteal of letting it fall to the bottom. The simplest grills are made from rebar. Construction grade rebar that is inserted in holes punched through the barrel. The rebar should be placed four inches or so apart. It is easy to cut with a hacksaw. There are other possibilities. Use your imagination.
Ideally there should be a "fire guard" who remains with the barrel to watch for sparks and to make sure nobody throws anything in that is dangerous. Spray cans, for example. And stops people from throwing in plastic or paint or liquids. Kids make good fire-guards. It gives them something responsible to do. Just make sure you have a roster and they are relieved every hour or so.
It goes without saying to never ever pour a flammable liquid of any kind into a burn barrel!
In cold weather they keep people warm. Gathering fuel and burnable garbage provide people with something meaningful to do.
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