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SOLVING BURNING ISSUE; CREMATORY OFFERS POLLUTION-FREE WAY TO DISPOSE OF FLAGS.

Byline: Kevin F. Sherry Daily News Staff Writer

A local flag lover has caught the attention of air-quality officials for his innovative and environmentally friendly method of burning worn-out flags.

Forrest Frields, a Vietnam War veteran and Thousand Oaks planning commissioner, has been working for the past few years with Pierce Bros. Valley Oaks Memorial Park to burn worn-out flags in its crematory. The furnace is used to reduce human remains to ashes.

Traditionally, service and veterans groups have torched old flags in backyard barbecue pits. But the open-air burning has led to complaints from people bothered by the smoke.

Air-quality officials are concerned that toxins from synthetic-material flags might cause an environmental problem, said Richard Baldwin, an officer with the Air Pollution Control District.

When synthetic materials heat up, ``it's kind of half burning, half melting,'' Baldwin said.

Frields has been rescuing flags ever since he noticed that some people discarded theirs in trash cans instead of burning them, the recommended method of disposal.

``I collect them, I stockpile them,'' Frields said.

Frields has more than 100 flags of all kinds stored and ready for burning. Several months ago, he brought more than 300 flags to the mortuary for burning.

Valley Oaks Memorial handles the flags free of charge because burning is the proper and dignified way to dispose of them, said general manager Larry Michael.

Crematories seem to be a clean, efficient and dignified answer to the air-pollution issue of flag burning, Baldwin said.

``There aren't any new problems,'' he said. ``I like the solution. . . . It's definitely going to be better than an open barbecue pit.''

Crematories are equipped to safely handle all kinds of materials, Baldwin said.

In July, the Air Pollution Control District received a complaint about smoke from burning flags at Ventura's American Legion Post 339. The post got the OK to continue burning flags after the state Air Resources Board ruled that flag-disposal ceremonies are allowed under recreational fire rules in the California Health and Safety Code.

But those rules generally apply to activities like barbecues and beach bonfires, Baldwin said.

``There is nothing specific about ceremonial burning,'' he said.

On Sept. 10, the state Assembly voted 64-11 to amend state law to allow for flag burning, after the measure had supposedly died Sept. 2 with the state Air Resources Board. Late Friday, the state Senate voted 39-0 to support the bill, which now awaits the governor's signature.

Local groups like the Elks and the Veterans of Foreign Wars collect old flags year-round and hold ceremonies before their disposal.

Flags come from schools, fire departments and from the general public, said Jerry Serota, the editor of the newsletter for Elks Lodge 2477. The Elks use the crematory because they cannot burn the hundreds of flags that need disposal.

``Logistically, there were too many flags to get rid of,'' Serota said. ``It's not an EPA thing that we're concerned about.''

The Elks hold an annual 20-minute ceremony, at which one or two representative flags are burned, while the mortuary handles the rest, Serota said.

``It's a very patriotic and inspiring ceremony,'' he said. ``We realized that it's the symbolism of the thing that's important.''

The next such ceremony is scheduled for 1 p.m. Oct. 5 at the Elks lodge, located at 158 Conejo School Road in Thousand Oaks.

The VFW also has a flag-disposal ceremony, but most of it is done in private, because the national organization objects to public flag burning of any kind.

The crematory solution will help people dispose of flags in a respectful way without fouling up the environment, Frields said.

``People want to do the right thing,'' he said.

CAPTION(S):

Photo

PHOTO (color in Conejo edition only) Forrest Frields burns old U.S. flags at Pierce Bros. Valley Oaks Memorial Park.

Terri Thuente/Daily News
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 16, 1997
Words:637
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