Martinez has been selling firewood for 15 years.
On Nov. 20, he stands besides two loads of it at the lot on the edge of Old Las Vegas Highway during a cloudy, chilly day.
Weathermen predicted that the sleet that blanked northern New Mexico would turn into snow within days. Martinez—who was selling one load of oak for $150 and a load of mixed wood for $100—estimated he’d get customers by the evening.
It’s the time of year for Santa Feans to start burning firewood—whether for decoration or as a primary heat source. SFR gathered some pointers on how to buy it, store it and burn it.
“See the oak?” Martinez asks, holding up the thick, heavy wood. “You need some other kind of wood to burn. ‘Cause this oak— you can’t just start [with] it. You know what I mean? Because it’s so dense, it’s so hard. You have to have a fire going before throwing one of these in. Once it gets going, it’ll burn for a long time.”
“It burns slower and it burns hotter,” he adds. That’s why he and other vendors say you get the best bang for your buck if you maintain fires with different species of wood.
Martinez’ mixed load included red and white cedar. The red cedar can have a purple tint to it and always releases a nice aroma when it burns—making it a popular choice for customers. The white cedar has a less obvious, more earthy aroma, and it burns slower and hotter than the red cedar, notes Martinez, who says the cedar variety tends to crackle when burned. He also has pine, which he says is a good starter wood, and piñón, a Santa Fe favorite that, according to the website for Santa Fe EcoWood, another local vendor, “rivals hardwoods with excellent heat output, slow burning, minimal ash for clean-up.” It burns well with other woods and is a natural mosquito repellant, adds the site.
A young company that gets wood from tree reduction projects and from dead wood in the national forest, EcoWood, “Santa Fe’s premier firewood company,” has become a big rival for peddlers on Old Las Vegas Highway like Martinez, who collects wood from a ranch in Las Vegas, NM, where he lives.
Chris Suarez, field supervisor for Santa Fe EcoWood, says that customers looking to buy a cord of wood should know how to measure it to make sure they’re getting all the wood for which they pay. A cord, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, is 128 cubic feet of neatly stacked wood—which can be measured as four feet deep by four feet high by eight feet long.
Suarez says that customers should also make sure the wood they’re buying isn’t wet—in other words, that it’s seasoned. Unseasoned firewood, also known as green, says the company’s website, “is wood that hasn’t had enough time to dry out all its moisture content.” (The Environmental Protection Agency notes that wood burns best when the moisture level is less than 20 percent and that wood moisture meters are available for anyone to purchase.) Unseasoned wood smokes “profusely” when it burns, says the company, and doesn’t release as much heat. It can also potentially damage a chimney because of the steam and chemicals, says the company. That’s why the EPA advises against burning it, and says that it’s best to season wood outdoors through the summer for six months before burning it.
“Make sure [the logs] make a clunking noise,” Suarez says. That’s an indicator that they’re fully seasoned. As for storing wood, Suarez and Martinez both tell SFR it’s best to make sure it’s stacked off the ground to ensure that it doesn’t rot and to store it away from your home to ensure it doesn’t become a home for rodents and insects.
“I think it’s important for people to educate themselves before purchasing wood,” says Martinez. “Some people get burned because they don’t know any better.”