December 16, 2018
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High demand for firewood keeps dealers scrambling to keep up

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Corbin Chamberlain, 16, pulls a sled load of firewood up from the backyard, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, in Mechanic Falls, Maine, where the morning temperature was -1 degrees F.

According to folk wisdom, early February’s Candlemas Day marks the halfway point of winter and serves as a reminder for cold-dwelling folks to make sure they are not running through their supplies too fast. Or, as the old saying goes, “half the wood and half the hay, you should have on Candlemas Day.”

But this winter, there’s a problem. By Feb. 2, when the minor Christian holiday rolled around, lots of Mainers had already gone through half their firewood and more. A high demand and reduced supply of seasoned firewood around the state this winter has meant that volunteers who run a Waldo County nonprofit agency that provides free firewood to those in need have been scrambling to keep up.

“We’re currently out of wood,” Dawn Caswell, the treasurer of Waldo County Woodshed, said Thursday. “We were hit so much earlier with storms and the cold weather came in so soon. We’ve been distributing since Thanksgiving, and we hoped it would last through at least February.”

But photos shared on social media show that by the beginning of February, the group’s large wood storage shed in Searsmont was just about picked clean, with only bark and scraps remaining of the 114 cords of cut, split and seasoned firewood with which they started the winter. That wood was given to 143 households in Waldo County and beyond, which woodshed organizers estimate to be worth about $30,700 in heating assistance or about $215 per household.

Unfortunately the need for firewood hasn’t vanished, too, so organizers will be hosting an emergency work party beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 17, to try to generate a few more cords from what remains on the property. There’s still a lot of 4-foot firewood lengths left that need to be sawed and split, Caswell said, and other wood that is buried under the snow, and they’re hoping lots of volunteers will come out to the site at the back of the Come Spring Business Park in Searsmont to process it.

“We’re looking for people with wood splitters, people with backs and anybody who can just give us a hand,” she said. “Or if anybody wants to come and feed us, we’d love that, too.”

The Waldo County Woodshed is not the only place in the state noticing increased demand for firewood. An article published recently in the Kennebec Journal detailed the supply and demand situation in the southern and western portions of the state. Locally, many firewood dealers said this week that their phones won’t stop ringing, even though some dealers only have green firewood left to sell.

“All we have is green wood,” Corey Edkins, the wholesale dispatcher for Dysart’s of Hermon, said Thursday. “I’m two months ahead of orders this year as compared to last year. This year seemed to be that everybody was burning more and wanted more than usual.”

Instead of green (unseasoned) firewood, which has a higher moisture content, throws less heat when it burns and can lead to a potentially dangerous creosote build up in the chimney, Edkins has been urging customers to purchase Envi Blocks, a wood product made from recycled, compressed hardwood sawdust and shavings. But it’s not always an easy sell to Mainers more familiar with regular firewood.

“If they don’t know what they are, they don’t want to go that way,” he said.

Another dealer, Brian Crocker of B.D. Crocker & Sons, Inc., of Winn, said that he has noticed a higher demand than in previous years, too.

“The cold spell we had at the beginning of the winter definitely caught some people off guard,” he said. “It’s been pretty steady and I’m definitely doing more this year. I don’t think more people are going to wood. I just think they’re burning a lot more wood.”

The cold snap also made for difficult conditions for Crocker and his employees to work outside.

“In the firewood industry, things go pretty well in the spring and summer. In the wintertime, it’s a different story,” he said. “Our production goes down. Wood is so much more difficult to process in the cold.”

But Crocker feels he’s in a good position because he still has an ample supply of seasoned firewood, which is what his customers want this time of year. He’s also on the list of home heating assistance providers used by the Penquis Community Action Agency in Bangor, and that has kept him busy this winter, too.

“It just keeps coming and coming,” Crocker said. “We try to stay on top of it, but there’s not a slow minute.”

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