Lyle Giesbrecht is busier than he’s been in 39 years.
Like other central Alberta firewood sellers, he can’t keep up with rising customer demand during the pandemic.
With so many people hunkering down in their homes to avoid the spread of COVID-19, more fireplaces and firepits are being used, said Giesbrecht, of Birch Firewood Sales in Ponoka.
His inventory is about a third of what’s normal for this time of year, but he doesn’t feel good about the fact business is booming.
“Who likes to benefit from a pandemic?” said Giesbrecht.
“I guess I’m kind of old school, in that I feel guilty … I mean, we’re in the middle of a crisis — and this is horrible. I feel sorry for people” who are having to cope without many diversions.
The increased interest in camping this year, along with more people spending time in their homes and yards, has created firewood shortages across the province.
Some businesses appear to be making the most of this by raising their prices, but “I don’t think gouging people is a fair thing to do,” Giesbrecht added.
Customers from as far as Calgary and Devon have been calling rural suppliers, such as Firewood on Hi-Way 53 near Rimbey, to try to track down a more affordable supply after price increases in their regions.
Firewood on Hi-Way 53 co-owner Melody Campbell said it’s been so busy, “My word, we couldn’t keep up!
“We had to shut down in June” to new clients, she added, since available wood had to be prioritized for regular customers who need it to heat their homes.
Campbell is now asking three or four customers a day whether they want to be put on a waiting list for when the next shipment of dry wood arrives.
“It’s about a month out, now,” she said.
Higher demand isn’t the only factor causing the provincial firewood shortage — a very wet spring meant loggers had difficulty harvesting the wood. And the March pandemic lockdown created a backlog in the supply chain.
So many companies had temporarily shut down because of COVID-19, “there was no one to cut or dry the wood,” said Mack Patchett, office manager for Blue Grass Sod Farms.
While Patchett still has some pine to sell, he has no slower-burning birch at the moment.
“This year’s challenge has been getting enough supply…”
Shaun Isaac, of Woodchuckers Firewood in Kneehill County, usually orders about 50 or 60 cords, but this year could receive only 13 cords — which meant he was nearly sold out at the beginning of October and is waiting for more wood now.
“Eight semi-loads of pine are booked to come in,” he said, when the ground is either no longer wet or has frozen.
Isaac admitted he has “two weeks” of wood supply left, but is saving this for long-time customers who need it for heating.
“I’ve said ‘no’ to more people than ever before,” he said.