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Europe's energy crisis raises firewood prices, theft fears
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Tudor Popescu swings his ax down on a log, then feeds the split wood into a stove that heats his home in the capital of Moldova. As the nights turn chilly, the stack of firewood has been growing higher around him — his provisions for the coming winter.
In the past, Popescu relied on natural gas to keep warm in the mornings and firewood in the evenings. But gas is now in shorter supply, creating a crisis in his small Eastern European country.
"I won't use gas anymore, so it's going to only be wood," Popescu said. "But what I have isn't enough."
Europe's energy crisis, triggered by Russia slashing natural gas flows amid its war against Ukraine, has forced some people to turn to cheaper heating sources like firewood as the weather gets colder. But as more people stock up and burn wood, prices have skyrocketed, shortages and thefts have been reported, and scams are emerging. Foresters are putting GPS devices into logs to track the valuable stocks, and fears are rising about the environmental impact of increased air pollution and tree-cutting.
EUROPE, ONCE FEARING GAS RATIONING THIS WINTER, HAS A GLUT
In the former Soviet republic of Moldova, leaders worry that this winter could be devastating for many of its people because of the high cost of electricity and heat, with European natural gas prices roughly triple what they were in early 2021 despite falling from August's record highs. Europe’s poorest country, with pro-Western aspirations but part of its territory controlled by Russian troops, has seen Russian energy giant Gazprom slash natural gas supplies by 30% recently and threaten more cuts.
The clamor for firewood is not limited to poorer nations like Moldova but has surged across richer regions of Europe, too. Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic's state-owned forests are seeing much stronger demand for the limited amounts of firewood they sell as part of their sustainable forest management.
Often it's coming from people who have never ordered firewood before and seem unaware that it needs to be purchased two years ahead so it can dry out enough to be burned in wood stoves, according to the forest service in southwest Germany's state of Hesse.
German forest rangers also are seeing more people gathering fallen wood in forests, often not knowing it's illegal.