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Ash Firewood

The result of emerald ash borer’s impact on our forests is that most of Frederick County’s ash trees are now either dead or in a severely declining condition. Unless ash trees are in a treatment program, it is unlikely that they will survive. Putting a positive spin on a bad situation, ash trees do offer a good source of firewood.

Although ash may not have the vaulted status of premier firewood such as oak, hickory, or locust, it is viewed as above average by most firewood enthusiasts.  One of the real bonuses of ash is that it does not take long for it to cure, it dries quickly when wet, and it ignites easily.  My experience with oak it that it takes up to 6 months or longer to cure after it has been split and stacked. This is especially true when oak is cut in a living “green” condition. Ash, on the other hand, cures much quicker. A few winters ago having overestimated my firewood reserves, during a particularly “long” month of March, I was compelled to gather firewood from a stack of ash that had been split barely two months earlier. To my surprise, the wood lit well and burned hot, carrying the household through to the spring.  An internet firewood reference source says the following about a cord of white ash: One cord yields 24.2 million Btu’s of heat, placing it in the Top 20 of firewood species; it is rated as fast curing, moderately easy to split, low smoke production, few sparks, good coals, and low fragrance. White ash achieved an overall “excellent” rating on this site. It should be noted that green ash has similar values.

 When ash dies, it often collects boring insects that tunnel into the inner heart wood, making the wood punky. These heartwood borers are not emerald ash borers. The emerald ash borer remains just below the bark, feeding on the sapwood.  I have found that splitting and stacking ash firewood in a timely fashion seems to reduce the populations and damage brought about by these boring insects. Splitting and stacking ash firewood within a month or so will help ensure that it stays sound for one or two seasons. Any ash firewood you have should remain onsite, and should not be transported outside County lines.  You don’t want to be responsible for exporting emerald ash borer to a new location.  

A very important caution regarding the cutting and burning of ash firewood is that the cutting of standing ash trees is very dangerous, especially if the tree has been dead for a while. Standing dead ash trees quickly develop punky wood. Trees with punky wood do not behave like sound trees. Large sections of the tree can break off and fall as the tree is falling, putting the sawyer or nearby spectators at risk. Ash have done this so often, that a term known as “ash snap” has been coined to describe this phenomenon.  Numerous experienced arborists, loggers, and homeowners have been injured or killed in the last several years when felling ash trees. If you decide to fell ash trees for firewood, make sure that you are wearing proper safety equipment, especially an approved hard hat; have someone present to spot for you; and have a phone handy in case an accident occurs. The most important aspect is to evaluate the size, location, and condition of the tree and your personal abilities before felling any standing tree. If there is any doubt that the tree can be easily felled, it is best to leave the tree alone, or let skilled professionals handle the job. 

If you happen across some ash firewood, split and stack it quickly, wait awhile, and enjoy the heat.

Article written by the Frederick County Forest Conservancy District Board
Photo courtesy of wisconsin.gov

Nature Note for 2/3/2019