As a child, Bruce Hurst remembers chopping firewood with his dad in Wooden Valley and Pope Valley. Now 58, Hurst is still at it.

Following in the footsteps of his parents, Hurst now works with his two grown children, Autumn and Andrew, delivering wood to customers in Napa and surrounding counties from their retail yard off of Highway 29 in American Canyon.

He loves being outdoors, said Hurst, the founder of Bruce Hurst Firewood and Tree Service.

Sales of firewood have increased by 30 percent over the past year, despite the expectation of more “no-burn days” this winter as the Bay Area Air Quality Management District tries to safeguard air quality.

“It’s really picked up in this cold weather,” Hurst said.

As the economy has improved, people who had not ordered in years have started to buy firewood again, Hurst said. Many people still enjoy chimney fires. It’s a plus to have a wood yard near Napa Junction, with easy access to customers in Napa and Solano counties and the East Bay, he said.

Most of his customers have ordered wood from his family for years. “We’ve got customers who were my parents’ customers,” Hurst said.

His daughter Autumn Brazell, who manages the office while attending Solano Community College and raising a 3-year-old daughter, said firewood sales were probably stronger when she first started to work for the company in 2007 — before the economic downturn. But sales are now getting better every year, said Brazell, 26, a Yountville resident.

Prices range from $250 including tax for a cord of mixed wood to $358 for a cord of more expensive wood, including madrone or cherry. Delivery prices vary depending on the destination.

Higher fuel costs forced the company last January to increase the price of a mixed cord of wood by $20, Brazell said. But that was the first increase in seven years, she said. Typically, one cord of wood lasts a household a full season.

The most popular items are cords of mixed wood, Hurst said. These include soft wood such as pine, which is used to start fires, and harder woods such as oak, walnut or madrone.

Bruce Hurst said his wood comes from wholesalers, farmers, orchards, or trees he cuts down with his 23-year-old son, Andrew, at vineyards and other client properties throughout Napa County during the summer months. The elder Hurst still does most of the tree climbing. During the fall and winter months, Andrew Hurst helps his dad deliver wood.

The Hursts receive orders for firewood year-round, though the high season remains the winter months. During the summer, the tree service side of Bruce Hurst’s business picks up. The family also sells wood chips, topsoil and mulch, some of which Hurst began to use to plant sunflowers around the yard a few years ago to show how well plants could grow in it.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which oversees Napa County and eight other counties, last winter issued 15 Winter Spare the Air alerts but none so far this year, air district representative Jennifer Jones said Wednesday. During these winter alerts, which can be declared between Nov. 1 and Feb. 28, residents cannot burn wood if they have another source of heat.

“Winter Spare the Air alerts are generally called when we have cold winter weather, with little to no wind or rain,” Jones said. “These conditions can cause wood smoke pollution to become trapped close to the ground and build up to unhealthy levels.”

Hurst, whose sole source of heat at home comes from wood fires, says he has no problem with the air district’s Spare the Air policies, noting that there have been few no-burn days over the years.

“If the air quality is poor, I don’t think people should burn wood,” he said.

A few years ago, he invited air district officials to test his company’s firewood, to make sure its humidity content was less than 20 percent. The lower the humidity, the less the firewood smokes and pollutes.

He also encourages his customers to start fires with soft wood that builds heat quickly and burns more efficiently, polluting less.

About 1,600 Napa County homes primarily used wood in 2011, according to the Alliance for Green Heat, a Maryland-based nonprofit organization that promotes high-efficiency wood combustion.

(9) comments


The key to a clean burn is dry wood, properly designed, installed and maintained stove, and proper building of fire (fast and hot). I've been using a manufactured firelog for years, Blazer High Energy Firelogs, found at Home Depot, OSH, independent firewood lots, etc. Unlike waxy logs, these are 100% wood with no additives or binders whatsoever....simply super-compressed dry wood (<8% moisture). Super low ash content as well and no creosote build-up in my stack. All you see at the exhaust of my stack is heat smoke whatsoever. The company that makes them says the wood comes from sustainable/responsible harvesting practices which make our forests more healthy and resistent to disease and insect infestation.


I bet there is good money in this business


There is another way of looking at this situation. If Hurst is cutting down old, diseased trees or if he is thinning the forests, the potential for these trees to send carbon into the atmosphere during a forest fire equals the carbon released during fireplace burning.

But this is not a carbon discussion. It's an air qaulity one. Perhaps BAAQM should certify 'for sale' firewood as being less polluting but then it would add yet another level of government involvement which many of you would complain about. I think the easiest thing to do is to just not burn on the no burn days.


Don't hold your breath...


Dry wood burned properly causes very little pollution. Why won't BAAQM recognize this? If it involves tax and regulate they sure know how to get into the details.


@Project707--it's a pay-to-play thing. So long as you pay to burn, you're allowed to. That's the history of the Air District.
BTW, I have bronchial asthma and use my fireplace. And I don't go jogging at night when it's freezing. Fireplaces and breathing problems can co-exist quite well in Napa. We don't have an air pollution problem here in Napa County and can blame Wagenknecht for bringing this rule to us. I spoke with him several years ago about this and he had no clue about the implications, ramifications, and goals of spare-the-air which is quite disappointing...


What I don't get is people can't burn firewood to heat their homes when they are cold, but lazy wineries can pile up acres of grapevines with the metal posts, pour gas on the pile and smoke out the entire valley for days on end??? The priorities for spare the air days do not make sense and going green doesn't mean anything when this outdated practice is still being used.


I too am happy that Mr. Hurst understands the need for Spare the Air days. I expect we'll see some comments to the contrary. Any parent with an asthmatic child can tell you how important it is to control air pollution caused by wood smoke.

John Ackerly

One important thing here is that if firewood sales are going up as the economy gets better, it may mean that lots of folks are buying wood for aesthetic reasons to burn in a fireplace, not to heat their homes. It could also mean that some folks who were cutting their own wood in lean times can now afford to buy it. Usually, we see firewood use go up when the economy goes down. We were very glad to see that Bruce Hurst supports the no burn days. If has so many repeat customers, indicates he is one of the honest, fair firewood dealers, who is providing folks good dry wood. The reporter quoted our organization, the Alliance for Green Heat, as saying there are 1,600 Napa county homes that primarily heat with wood. We wish we had our own data on county wood use, but that is a US Census figure.

John Ackerly, Alliance for Green Heat

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