October 17, 2013

Dry firewood getting scarce at wrong time for Mainers

A wet spring slowed harvesting and a cold forecast boosted demand, leaving a very low supply before winter even starts.

By Jessica Hall jhall@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

If you haven’t bought firewood yet for this heating season, you may be out of luck.

click image to enlarge

Scott Sargent of Western Maine Timberlands unloads cut trees Tuesday at Southern Maine Firewood in Gorham, which has had a waiting list since September for customers who want seasoned wood.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Home Heating Prices

For an average 1,500-square-foot home for a year

Fuel type: Price/uniT Cost/year

Fuel oil (No. 2): $3.66 $3,281

Electricity (furnace or boiler): $0.15 $4,488

Natural gas (furnace or boiler): $1.77 $2,201

Propane (furnace or boiler): $3.10 $4,220

Wood stove (conventional): $210 $1,886

Outdoor wood boiler (conventional): $210 $2,263

Pellets (central heating system): $234 $1,763

Kerosene: $4.06 $3,646

Coal (furnace/boiler/stove): $300 $1,557

SOURCE: State of Maine, Governor’s Energy Office

Dealers in Maine have limited supplies of dry wood, and some already have waiting lists of customers. Advertised prices for wood have been creeping up in some areas in the past month as supplies have dwindled.

Blame this year’s wet spring and early summer, which prevented loggers from harvesting wood in time to dry it over the summer, say dealers and loggers. Going into this fall, the supply of seasoned wood was limited.

And the problem could continue into next year if wet conditions make it difficult for loggers to haul logs, dealers said.

“Loggers have been really struggling to get wood to saw. ... The ground’s so wet, they can’t get into the woods to work,” said Jake Dyer, owner of Southern Maine Firewood in Gorham. “Loggers can’t count anymore on working throughout the winter, either. There used to be hard, frozen ground early. But the softer ground throughout the year makes work difficult.”

Southern Maine Firewood sells dry, seasoned wood for $250 per cord, for an order of two or more cords. Green wood, which can’t be burned until it dries, costs $200 a cord. Dyer said those are the same as last year’s prices.

Shellee Zaharis, office manager at Southern Maine Firewood, said the company has had a waiting list since September for customers who want seasoned wood.

Normally the company delivers about 400 cords of wood in September. This year it delivered 600 cords as orders spiked, Zaharis said.

“Events like the Farmer’s Almanac calling for an extremely cold winter and news in Syria make people worry about the cost of heating their homes and make people order,” said Zaharis, referring to the uncertainty about Middle East politics and oil supplies.

Southern Maine Firewood sold about 3,000 cords last year and expects to sell about 3,700 this year.

“This is the best year we’ve had since 2008, when oil prices spiked to $4 a gallon,” Dyer said.

JUNE RAINFALL DOUBLE THE NORM

According to the National Weather Service, southern Maine got about 7 inches of rain in June, almost double the normal amount. That created soggy conditions at a crucial time for firewood harvesting, loggers said.

“Probably a lot of guys were not in the woods in the summer,” said Michael Beardsley, executive director of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, which represents about 2,000 to 2,500 loggers who harvest wood for everything from firewood to lumber to pulp for paper and cardboard. “They’re not able to log when it’s muddy.”

The total rainfall so far this year in southern Maine is actually about normal, at 35.45 inches, compared with the normal 35.73 inches. Last year was wetter, with 43.23 inches by this point in the year, the weather service said.

Because of wet conditions throughout last winter, less wood than normal was stockpiled by spring, dealers said.

AVOID BUYING FIREWOOD IN THE FALL

Mark Killinger, owner of Atlantic Firewood in Cumberland, said he has turned away business this fall because he hasn’t had enough seasoned wood. “We’re at the mercy of Mother Nature,” he said.

He said he hasn’t raised his prices. “We have a lot of older customers on limited income, and firewood can be a much cheaper option,” he said.

Killinger said the fall is the worst time of year to buy firewood. “You need to buy it ahead of time. Buy green wood in the spring and let it season over the summer. Buy early and buy a little too much, because you never know how much you’ll really use and it’s impossible to find seasoned wood in the winter.”

(Continued on page 2)

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