Blowing smoke |

Blowing smoke

Apparently, it’s a cold world out there if one wants to stay warm without the help of the gas company.

Those who are planning to buy firewood this winter should take care before shelling out their dough to the wood cutter. There are some unscrupulous characters out there.

“A cord of wood means different things to different people, and there are some bad actors out there,” said Steve Burton, the assistant agriculture commissioner with El Dorado County. “You especially see what I’m talking about in South Lake Tahoe. Wood buyers have to be careful.”

Burton is referring to shady woodcutters, who will deliver what they claim is a cord of wood, collect your money and then – excuse the expression – split. It is only later that the customer will discover that what they paid for isn’t a cord of wood at all. It is often far less.

“There are a lot of scams out there,” Burton said. “We had a sting operation in Meyers a few years ago, where the wood seller was shorting each customer by as much as 25 percent. We fined him and gave him three years probation, but he disappeared. He’s probably living somewhere else now, pulling the same thing.”

The problem is that many people don’t know what a cord of wood actually is. For the record, a cord is measured not by weight or by individual pieces, but by volume.

“The key is 128 cubic feet,” Burton said. “And it should be well-packed, with no large openings in the stack. If you get in touch with the Department of Weights and Measures, we can help you figure it out.”

Since a cord of wood can run the customer as much as $200 in the Tahoe area, this is no small concern. Many times, says Burton, it is senior citizens who are the victims of wood scams.

“Oak is generally the best firewood, so it costs more,” he said. “But some wood sellers will mix oak with sycamore, which turns into something like balsa wood when it dries out. Unfortunately, many seniors can’t cut or stack their own wood. They get taken advantage of.”

Burton was quick to point out that there are many reputable wood sellers in the Tahoe area, and recommended that a person check the yellow pages when shopping for fire wood.

“If they’re in the yellow pages, it usually indicates that they’ve been around for a while,” he said. “A lot of these scam guys will hook up a phone for a couple of weeks, shortchange a bunch of people and then take off. That’s what you have to look out for.”

Tim Harrison, who operates Tim’s Total Tree in South Lake Tahoe, says he takes pride in giving the customer exactly what he pays for.

“I’ve been doing this for several years,” Harrison said. “I give an honest cord and quality wood, so I get mostly repeat customers.”

Harrison said that customers should never be intimidated by wood dealers.

“People should look at the wood they order before it’s delivered,” he said. “You should know that you can deny a delivery if you are not happy with it. I want to give good service, because too many people have been cheated by illegitimate wood dealers in this town.”

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