Editor’s note: This story was originally published in October of 2017, and republished in 2019.
There comes a time if Mother Nature gives you downed trees to simply look on the bright side — like how many cords of firewood have suddenly become available.
But when it comes to turning those fallen trees into manageable pieces of wood, those who are in the business say it is best and safest to leave it to the experts.
“We take classes on how to do it,” said Andrew Marquis of Marquis Tree Works in St. Agatha. “Around here, everyone has a chain saw but if it’s a really large tree or if you lack experience, hire someone who knows what they are doing; there are just too many variables that can go wrong for the inexperienced,” Marquis said.
Marquis and his crew are no strangers to cutting trees down, but they prefer doing the job themselves.
“When trees are blown or pushed down by Mother Nature, we hate it,” Marquis said. “If it’s been blown down there can be pressure points you don’t see [and] when you cut into it there is a danger of it springing back or rolling over on you.”
It was still too windy Monday afternoon for Patrick Deighan, owner of Maine Tree Solutions in Newburgh, to go out and assess how many trees were down in his area. But he knows there will be a lot.
“I’ve gotten 15 or 20 calls so far from people with downed trees, but when it’s this windy it can still be dangerous,” he said. “I’ll probably head out later today and if I do see any blocking driveways I can cut them out, but if they are near power lines, it’s going to have to wait.”
Trees, according to Marquis, are excellent conductors of electricity.
“You really need to assess the situation,” Marquis said. “If the tree is on a live power line or resting on a metal guardrail and there is a line touching the guardrail even 1,000 feet down the road, it’s still dangerous, so let the guys who know what they are doing take care of it and stay out of their way.”
Monday’s storm left more than a half million Mainers without power, flooded roadways, downed trees and one heck of a mess to clean up.
It also took out Sarah and James Higgins’ chicken run when a giant birch on the couple’s Brewer property toppled in the high winds.
“It’s a wreck,” Sarah Higgins said Monday afternoon. “The coop is perfectly fine, but the run is literally mooshed in half.”
Now the Higginses, like countless property owners across the state, are looking at a tree that once stood tall, but is now lying on its side.
Of course, cutting the tree up is the first problem.
What, then, does one do with several cords of unexpected wood in the yard?
“They can use it for firewood,” Marquis said. “Split it, cord it, stack it or put it on a pallet and let air circulate under it.”
If it’s rotted in places, the best solution is to cull those pieces out and have them hauled away.
Deighan said it depends on the tree, but for the most part any hardwood — maple, beech, birch — makes perfectly good firewood, as long as it is allowed to season for at least a year. That means this storm’s fallen trees will make great firewood for October 2018 and beyond.
“Right now any wood from a tree that just fell is way too wet,” he said. “Let it season through the summer and you have next year’s wood — unless you like having a log that takes forever to burn and just keeps sizzling.”
More than that, it can create a real hazard.
Burning wood that is “green,” or not seasoned, creates creosote — the tar-like substance that is a byproduct of burning wet wood. It’s highly flammable, so buildup of creosote inside a chimney can lead to chimney fires. Likewise, burning softwood in an indoor furnace isn’t recommended.
“A lot of the newer wood stoves have catalytic converters, and the higher, thicker sap content in the softwoods can really gunk those up,” Deighan said.
However, if you use an outdoor wood-fired furnace that pumps heat into the house, Deighan said, that can burn all varieties of soft and hard wood regardless of how green it may be.
Softwoods include fir, spruce and cedar.
If you don’t want to season wood for a year, though, or don’t need the wood at all, Deighan said another option is to have the tree sections simply hauled away to a lumber yard or biomass processing plant.
Over at the Higgins house, Sarah Higgins said she had some chain saw-savvy friends on the job cutting up the birch tree and clearing out around the chicken coop.
“I’m not sure what we will do with the wood,” she said. “We may try to integrate some of the stumps into a new chicken run, or if anyone wants some firewood, here it is.”
As for the flock of 16 birds, Higgins said there were no injuries to report.
In fact, the 11 Rhode Island Reds and five Bard Rocks seemed to have nary a feather ruffled.
“The chickens could really have cared less,” she said with a laugh. “A couple of them got over the broken fencing, but when I went out with a bag of mealworms, they just came running back [and] we’ve wrangled them all back into the coop while we take the tree down.”