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‘It’s been a long winter’: Firewood a hot commodity in northern Maine right now

Yard worker Gerard Thibodeau uses a mechanized splitter to prepare a load of wood for delivery. Firewood is in scare supply in northern Maine and dealers including Robert McBreairty in Fort Kent are doing their best to keep up with demand.
Julia Bayly
Yard worker Gerard Thibodeau uses a mechanized splitter to prepare a load of wood for delivery. Firewood is in scare supply in northern Maine and dealers including Robert McBreairty in Fort Kent are doing their best to keep up with demand.
Posted April 02, 2014, at 6:47 p.m.

Poll Question

FORT KENT, Maine — Few things put a chill in people who heat with wood faster than the thought of winter outlasting the firewood supply.

But that is exactly what some northern Maine residents are facing as they watch their woodpiles shrink faster than the snowbanks.

Fort Kent firewood dealer Butch Dubois sells around 250 cords of firewood annually and said he ran out of seasoned wood two weeks ago but does have green, unseasoned wood available.

“Nobody had enough firewood this year, and right now I have no seasoned wood to sell,” Dubois said. “It makes me feel bad, especially when people call and say they are out of wood — you really want to help them out.”

Despite the demand, cut and split firewood is currently averaging $200 a cord in northern Maine, which is consistent with pre-season costs, according to a sampling of dealers.

“It’s been crazy,” J.R. Sirois, owner of JRS Firewood in Fort Kent said. “Everyone calling me is running shy at least a cord or two cords [and] I’m crazy busy because of that.”

The shortage is primarily being felt in Aroostook County and is worse in some locations than others.

“I’ve not heard any specific stories of people running out of firewood,” Dan Jacobs, district forester with the Maine Forest Service working out of Island Falls, said Wednesday. “I have talked to a lot of people who did build in a cushion with a bit of extra wood last fall.”

Sirois, who sells 4,000 cords a year, said people are now calling to place their orders for next year and “adding another two cords on their usual amount to restock those two cords that had probably been in their cellars for 10 years.”

Firewood dealers at Robert McBreairty Jr. & Sons in Fort Kent are seeing much the same thing where workers are doing what they can to meet a late season supply demand.

“People are running low, and a lot of people are calling us looking for extra wood,” Beverly McBreairty said. “What we have is not seasoned, but people are burning it anyway and that is sad.”

McBreairty said her business ran out of seasoned wood last fall and in a normal year sells around 500 cords of firewood.

It would be near impossible to find seasoned firewood this time of year, Jacobs said.

“In southern Maine there are some [dealers] who kiln dry wood, but I don’t know of any up north who do that,” he said.

The problem with burning green wood, Jacobs said, is the moisture content, which can run 35 to 50 percent.

Seasoned wood, on the other hand, has a moisture content of less than 20 percent.

“Green wood does not burn as hot and does not produce as much heat,” Jacobs said.

That low burning temperature can cause more problems than a cold house, according to Fort Kent’s fire chief Edward Endee.

“It is definitely not a good idea to burn green wood,” Endee said. “It does not burn hot enough to prevent creosote buildup in stovepipes or chimneys.”

Creosote, he said, is the tar-like residue produced in the combustion process.

“It’s an unburned fuel,” Endee said. “It can catch fire and burn in stovepipes or chimneys.”

The good news for Mainers who heat with wood is that by all accounts, the state’s wood supply is in good shape, Jacobs said.

A 2012 study conducted by James W. Sewall Company for the then Maine Department of Conservation found in most parts of the state the growth of trees in the state is exceeding the levels of harvest.

The exception, Jacobs said, is in northern Maine where the study indicated harvesting is slightly exceeding the rate of growth.

“But we have three to four million acres of timber [in Aroostook County] and 70,000 residents, and only a portion of them use firewood,” Jacobs said. “So I would imagine the firewood supply will last a long time.”

McBreairty, Dubois and Sirois said they are already taking orders for next season and advise people to order early this year.

Everyone agrees this year’s long winter and sustained periods of deep cold are to blame and not even the dealers are immune.

“Even myself, I’ll be running low this year,” McBreairty said. “I tell you, it’s been a long winter.”

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