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Maine dealers say firewood isn't selling

PORTLAND, Maine -- After years of increased demand for firewood because of high energy costs, some firewood dealers find themselves caught with too much supply and not enough demand because of a relatively balmy winter and stable heating oil prices.

Thousands of cords of unsold firewood are piled up across southern and central Maine, and some firewood dealers have begun cutting prices.

Michael Scott of Waterboro was offering seasoned wood for $220 a cord, but recently went down to $205. That hasn't helped much, he said, because people don't buy what they don't need.

Tim Chick, a logger and truck driver in Gorham, is working with several other dealers and is currently selling seasoned wood for even less, at $190.

"It's still not moving at that price," he said.

Just four years ago, there was a firewood shortage. Truckers took advantage of good prices for hardwood pulp that year, leaving less oak and maple for firewood. Then oil prices spiked during an unusually cold winter.

These factors pushed firewood prices higher, and the trend continued for a time with prices rising roughly $50 per cord since 2003, the Portland Press Herald reported.

But the weather has not cooperated this season. November was the warmest on record in Portland, and December was the second-warmest on record.

The latest price survey from the Maine Office of Energy Independence and Security put the average statewide price for No. 2 heating oil at $2.26 a gallon. That's a dime below the price at this time last year.

Stable heating oil prices and the warmer-than-usual weather has provided little incentive for customers to throw another log on the fire.

R.C. McLucas Trucking Inc. of Porter borrowed money to buy a $100,000 firewood processor and two delivery trucks last year, but the investment won't pay off this winter.

"A lot of people were thinking that the oil was going to stay up and everybody would go to wood," said Gayla McLucas. "But that's not happening."

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