Saturday, November 21, 2009

Fires, Firewood, and Fireplaces

SAN DIEGO – Although our current weather is not conducive, it is time to plan stocking winter firewood.

My wife, as usual, thinks I’m daft. She’s right, of course.

The Southwest corner’s recent weather has been different from back home. A Santa Ana settled in early. Temperatures have soared and humidity has plunged.

Last week, Bill and Nancy Schwarze visited us from Florida. Nancy, my Chattanooga cousin more like an older sister, has heard me continually boast about San Diego weather. So she arrives and the thermometer stuck at 90 degrees.

Wildfire Threat

While they made fun of my weather, we also monitored the wildfire potential. The weather has made the high desert brush more like a tender box than vegetation.

We had a brush fire flare up several miles east ten days ago. The 14-acre fire was put out quickly. Response has quickened since the big fire two years ago.
Friday morning, my wife saw a cloud to the southeast of our home.

“Oh no, a fire,” she said.

“No, it’s the off shore moisture-filled breeze losing a battle with the Santa Ana. It produces clouds like that one,” I explained.

I did not tell her a wildfire was my first thought as well. It’s natural here this time of the year.

So when I told her of plans to obtain firewood, she rolled her eyes in that knowing way women do.

Gathering Firewood

In the Southwest corner, there are several ways to acquire it. If I am industrious and thrifty, a confluence which happens about one day a decade, I will find a landscaper who is giving wood away in his back lot. I will sift through the pile, load the wood, and take it home for free.

If I am industrious but not as thrifty, I can drive to the eastward mountains and find someone who is selling it off their farm. No sifting required, but it will cost at least $50.

Obviously, having it delivered is easiest. But the biggest difference in firewood here and home is a half cord of wood will run over $150.

Rob Eatherly Connection

I intend to ask Rob Eatherly when I am home, how much firewood he gets from his portable sawmill operation. Rob, who grew up with me, clears land for farmers and others, often turning the cleared wood into lumber.

Rob was surprised to learn my grandfather, Hiram Culley Jewell, preceded him in that line of work. In 1918, my grandfather and my oldest uncle, Jessie Jewell, rode the train to Nashville, picked up the steam-driven sawmill, and drove it back to Lebanon, a two-day endeavor. When my father reached six, he was enlisted to stoke the boiler.

However I gather the wood this year, I will again perplex my wife when I start my first fire. The threat of wildfires will have passed: it would not be de rigueur to light one during the danger season. It also will not be cold enough for a fire. But I love a fire in the hearth. So I will turn on our fans to cool the room. Then with my wife muttering to herself, I will light my first fire.

Fire Not Required

In the Southwest corner, a fire is not ever really necessary. From November through March, we turn on our heat for about an hour in the morning to knock off the early chill. We might turn it on briefly in the heart of a cool evening, but don’t really require a fire at all. But I need one. Our family room will be nice and toasty for the evening.

I often wonder why I find hearth fires appealing. Growing up, no one I recall had a fire in the fireplace. Our fireplace was decorative only. Wynn Prichard, my great uncle had a Ben Franklin stove in his farmhouse. My parents’ generation seems to have found central heat a relief from fires in fireplaces. Hearth fires meant work to them, not entertainment.

Most people in the Southwest corner and back home have converted their fireplaces to natural gas. It is a sensible and effective means of having a fire in the hearth. But I remain a stalwart, stubbornly gathering the wood, hauling it inside, and lighting my fire.

My wife is a good woman to put up with me and my odd predilections.

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