Firewood project gives warm feeling to those in need around South Shore |

Firewood project gives warm feeling to those in need around South Shore

Sara Thompson

Jonah M. Kessel / Tahoe Daily Tribune

The Tahoe Firewood Project needs your help.

The project – a nonprofit program that gives free cords of wood to low-income seniors and disabled people throughout the South Shore – has plenty of wood from forest-thinning projects.

But it doesn’t have enough people to split the wood and deliver it.

“Because of the lack of volunteers, we can only split two cords on a Sunday and deliver them,” said Dee Nangle, director of the Tahoe Firewood Project.

That’s only enough for two clients.

Nangle became involved with the Tahoe Firewood Project three years ago when she met John Pickett, operations manager for the Tahoe Fuels and Fire Team. She was looking for free firewood because she couldn’t afford to buy it. Pickett had free firewood but didn’t have a way to get it to her.

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The two joined forces to create the Tahoe Firewood Project. At the time, Nangle had told Pickett that she could help out with the project.

“I said, ‘I can help,’ and all of the sudden I’m in charge of it,” Nangle said.

In three years, the project has provided more than 100 free cords to people, Pickett said.

Volunteers split wood between June and October every year.

“It’s hard and grungy work on a hot summer afternoon,” Pickett said.

Besides having only one wood-splitting machine, which is at the end of its life, the group only has two dump trailers and one regular trailer to deliver the wood.

Pickett challenges all service groups to a wood-splitting challenge.

“Whoever splits and delivers the most cords in one day wins,” Pickett said. “Come out and show me what you’ve got.”

On Aug. 23, the Tahoe Douglas Fire District crew donated their time to saw lodgepole logs in manageable chunks so others could split them. Earlier this year, Lake Valley Fire District also helped with this task.

“Firefighters really are heroes,” Nangle said.

The free firewood comes from fuels-reduction projects. Pickett said it’s important to thin the forests, and with the firewood program, the wood goes to a good cause.

“To have a project like this is really satisfying,” Pickett said. “Burning piles in the woods that aren’t heating people’s homes is not satisfying.”

Nangle said the program has an application process. When the project first started, it received 40 applications. Now, there are 70 applicants.

Once someone applies, Nangle calls them every year to make sure they continue to get their cord of wood.

Pickett and Nangle know that people need more than one cord for the winter.

“We need to give two cords, but we aren’t able to right now,” Pickett said. “We can only do what we can do.”

To learn more about the Tahoe Firewood Project, including how you can help, contact Nangle at (530) 541-8313.

Natural gas and heating-oil prices are on the rise, and people already are planning how to heat their homes for the winter.

Many have turned to alternative forms of energy to combat increasing utility costs, which has left the East Coast with a pellet-fuel shortage.

“A guy from Baltimore called me wanting to buy pellet fuel,” said Michael Pettibone, owner of Sierra Tahoe Wood Products.

Pettibone sells pellet logs, which are a mix of cedar, Douglas fir and sawdust. The mix is compressed into logs, so they are denser than firewood – translating to longer burning times and more heat.

According to the Energy Information Administration and the Pellet Fuels Institute, wood operates at 60 percent efficiency, whereas pellets are 80 percent efficient.

The logs don’t need a special pellet stove, either.

“We want to keep people warm,” Pettibone said.

One of the reasons there’s a shortage on pellet fuel is the lack of materials. The sawdust – called fiber – used to make pellet logs is underproduced, Pettibone said. Mills aren’t operating at the same capacity, partly because of the slower housing market.

Without fiber, pellets can’t be produced.

But Pettibone said South Shore residents shouldn’t worry about the shortage, because his inventory is in good shape for the winter.

to see more photos of the Tahoe Firewood Project.