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Opinion >  Column

Gardening: Gather firewood for cozy fires

Pat Munts’ husband Steve collects an armload of locust firewood. Locust is the best firewood in this area because it generates a lot of heat, but it needs to be split with a log splitter because of its twisted grain.  (Pat Munts/For The Spokesman-Review)
Pat Munts’ husband Steve collects an armload of locust firewood. Locust is the best firewood in this area because it generates a lot of heat, but it needs to be split with a log splitter because of its twisted grain. (Pat Munts/For The Spokesman-Review)

With the holidays behind us, it’s time to settle into the winter curled up with our garden catalogs in front of a warm fire. Whether it’s a gas, pellet or good old-fashioned wood fire, there is something cozy and satisfying about the warmth and the glow.

For some of us, it’s important to keep our wood stoves and fireplaces. My husband and I live at the end of the Avista line in Painted Hills. Over the years, we have been thankful we had the wood fireplace when a winter storm hits, and we are out of power for a week or more. It also means we need to burn responsibly to minimize the smoke we generate in the process.

A good fire starts with good wood. Different kinds of wood generate differing amounts of heat. In this region, locust, red or Douglas fir and tamarack generate the most heat which is measured in British thermal units or BTUs. Locust is rated at 27.9, fir at 20.7 and tamarack comes in at 21. Ponderosa pine is another common firewood here, but it comes in at low 16.2.

To burn cleanly, wood must be dry. Freshly-cut wood or green wood can take six months to a year to dry completely after it’s split and stacked. Green wood stillhas a lot of moisture, and the fire must dry out the water before it burns. Burning wet wood creates a lot of smoke and little usable heat.

To get good firewood, buy or cut it in the spring or early summer. A bonus is that firewood dealers usually have the best prices early in the year. Wood is generally sold by the cord which is a stack 8 feet long and 4 feet wide and tall or 128 cubic feet of wood. Dealers might offer it in other dimensions; just be sure you get the quantity you bought.paid for If you are buying it,a piece of wood shouldn’tfeels overly heavy, which means it’s likely still green. Bang a couple of pieces together; they should have a solid ring. If not, check for rot in the pile.

The wood will need to be split and stacked so that allowing for the air to can circulate around it. Cover it with a tarp to keep the rain off it if it’s not in a shed. Rent a log splitter to make the job easier. Tamarack and fir split easily, but pine and locust have twisted grains and can be difficult to split even with a log splitter.

When building a fire, crush several pieces of newspaper into the fireplace and top it withseveral pieces of thin kindling. Next lay on some slightly heavier pieces and top it off with a large piece. You are trying to create air spaces. Open the air dampers and light the paper in several places. Within a few minutes, there should be steady flames. Adjust the dampers so that there is little smoke coming out of the chimney. Enjoy!

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