With colder weather just around the corner, lots of folks are buying firewood for the winter.
But out there in the jungle, it's buyer beware, according to the county.
Karen Overstreet, assistant agriculture commissioner for Merced County, said people who sell wood must follow strict guidelines. "Sellers can only sell by the cord or by a portion of a cord," Overstreet said.
That means no pickup loads, no half-pickup loads or any measurement other than a cord. A cord of wood has to be 4 feet tall by 4 feet wide by 8 feet long. Overstreet said one of the problems with buying wood is that the product is delivered in a pile in a driveway. "Until you stack it you really can't measure it," Overstreet said.
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Firewood buyers should insist on a receipt, Overstreet said. "Some signs where you might be suspicious is if the wood is delivered at night, with no receipt and they want cash," she said.
If a buyer thinks he's been ripped off, a call to the ag commissioner's office will start an inquiry. "We will go through and do a random sample of the length of the logs and the height of the logs," Overstreet said. "We can get a pretty good estimate from that."
If a seller breaks the law, Overstreet said it may just be a matter of education. "Depending on the person, we may just tell them what the law is," she said. "Or it could lead to a fine. Our first goal is to get the consumer the wood."
One point Overstreet wants firewood buyers to know is that a pickup truck bed can't hold an entire cord of wood. "The truck would have to have racks, and a standard size pickup just won't hold a cord," she said.
Overstreet encouraged people who think they haven't gotten a full cord of wood to call her office.
"We can only find out about the problem sellers if someone calls us," she said.
Then you can lean back and relax in front of the fire.
Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.