ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The Northeast just emerged from a two-week cold spell. In Vermont, temperatures fell to negative 30 degrees Fahrenheit. And in such extreme cold, rural Vermonters have been quickly burning through a precious wintertime commodity - firewood.
ANSLEY BLOOMER: We used more wood than I'd ever used last week - ever.
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Ansley Bloomer lives in remote central Vermont. Like many other people in that part of the country, she and her husband heat their home primarily with a wood stove. In the summer, they gather and split wood from their land. And in the winter, they carry out a tedious but time-honored tradition.
BLOOMER: Every morning, you bundle up, you go outside, get another batch of wood, bring it inside.
MCEVERS: Get enough for those cold days in a row and your woodpile shrinks fast. At the beginning of winter, Bloomer had about two cords of wood.
SHAPIRO: For the city slickers listening, a cord is a wood pile about 4 feet high, 8 feet long and 4 feet deep.
MCEVERS: Bloomer and her husband burned through a quarter of their supply during this two-week cold spell.
BLOOMER: We will probably get through our stock before March, maybe even February. Fingers are crossed.
MCEVERS: They aren't the only ones having this problem.
EMMA HANSON: Now that there's been this sudden, early, huge dent in firewood piles, there is a bit of a scramble in wondering what to do next.
SHAPIRO: Emma Hanson is Vermont's wood energy coordinator. She says the problem's not just the cold spell. The past two winters were mild, and people tend to gather the amount of wood that they used the year before.
HANSON: We had two warm winters here in a row, so people really didn't put up as much wood this year.
SHAPIRO: And gathering new wood to replenish a pile isn't easy. Fresh-cut wood needs to dry for months before it can be burned.
HANSON: At a very minimum six months, and preferably a lot longer. Trying to track down dry wood in winter can really be tough.
MCEVERS: All of this has left those in the firewood business in high demand, like Kevin Fisk of North Wolcott in northern Vermont.
KEVIN FISK: I've gotten 30 phone calls from people that I don't even know. They're asking for dry wood, and of course I'm out of that. All I've got is fresh green-cut.
MCEVERS: Fisk says other dealers are out, too.
FISK: The other dealers I know don't have no dry wood left. Actually, they called me and asked me if I had some.
MCEVERS: Fisk says his own stack at home is looking a little low.
FISK: I'm getting down lower than it was last year. It's pretty hard to live here in the extreme cold.
SHAPIRO: Many people will turn to propane or heating oil as a backup if their firewood runs out. That could add a significant unexpected expense to the heating bill, especially since the cold can linger well into April. For now, the temperatures in Vermont have risen above freezing. Key words - for now.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY BLUE HEAVEN")
FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) You'll see a smiling face, fireplace, cozy room, little nest that nestles where the roses bloom. Molly and me, and the baby makes three.