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.