Tallwood Shortfall

A run on firewood in 2014 may be making for some smokeless chimneys this winter.

Looking forward to gathering around the yule log this month? Be glad you have one, as high demand for firewood this year left some Mainers scrambling to shake up a few cords in time for winter. We made some calls back in October to see just how far woodpiles had dwindled here in the country’s most heavily forested state.

“Due to the incredible shortage of firewood this year, we are not currently taking any new orders,” announced the voicemail of one southern Maine firewood dealer. No wood available until January, said another. Then there was the customer who got so desperate, he started making offers a vendor couldn’t refuse.

“One guy was willing to pay $700 for a cord in Cape Elizabeth,” said a dealer who preferred anonymity. At the time, a cord of kiln-dried firewood cost about $350 in southern Maine, with seasoned wood going for something shy of $300 and green wood between $200 and $250. “If they’re willing to pay that much, we’ll find it.”

“My phone has been ringing off the hook,” agreed Tony Carter of Carter Tree Service in Norridgewock. “I’ve had to say, ‘I’m sorry. I’m out.’”

Lumber-rich northern Maine had it a little easier this year, most dealers reported, although Lynn York of Medway’s H. Arthur York Logging acknowledged being “the busiest we’ve ever been.” Southern Maine, meanwhile, has more demand and far fewer loggers. Accessing harvestable wood can be tough down south, according to Ken Canfield, the state’s district forester for all of York and a bit of Cumberland County, making the region “a really hard place to be a contractor.”

One guy was willing to pay $700 for a cord in Cape Elizabeth,” said a dealer who preferred anonymity.

In Pownal, David Moore of Maine Coast Firewood said his company was kiln-drying firewood as fast as possible — six cords every 36 hours — but he ran into competition this year from an unexpected source: swamp mats. Central Maine Power’s huge transmission-upgrade project requires log platforms and roads (sometimes called “corduroy roads”) to move heavy equipment through woods and fields.

“We lose anything down to 9 inches round,” said Moore. “Swamp mats have chewed up half the logs.”

Last winter’s deep freeze didn’t help, according to Ken Reed of Log-Land in Madison. “The panic button was hit last winter,” he said. Mainers who saw their woodpiles dwindle before the end of last January ordered early and heavily this year, some even doubling their usual order. Making matters worse, said Reed, the wet spring was an obstacle for loggers, helping create a seasonal shortage of hardwood for both firewood dealers and pulp mills, some of which found themselves competing in recent months for a limited supply of timber.

Whatever the reason our tinder’s been hindered, most dealers agree it’s never wise to wait until fall to place one’s order. Next year, they say, call before the leaves change, and you won’t be left wanting (knock on wood).

Edgar Allen Beem

Contributing editor Edgar Allen Beem has been writing for Down East since 1983.