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Firewood flows south

White City business buys logs, cuts and bundles firewood and ships it to lucrative California markets

WHITE CITY ' Oregonians used to cutting firewood on weekends or rummaging through driftwood after a coastal storm might question the need for a firewood production line here.

Greg and Diana Short have a pretty good answer.

There are 18 million people living in the Los Angeles Basin, Greg Short says. On any given night when it rains, you can sell a million bundles. Statistically, there are 400,000 people who go to buy wood and a million bundles sold. People premeditate that they will pick up their favorite soda pop, wine, or whatever, make dinner and have the family home around the fireplace when that happens.

So, along with the annual stream of Christmas trees flowing down Interstate 5 to Southern California, there's another economic channel being cut.

The plant, on 12 acres along Avenue F, fired up in June after six months of planning and preparation. It processes wood from 15 private timber suppliers in Jackson, Josephine and Douglas counties.

— The company employs 23 and anticipates turning out about 400 truckloads of wood in its first year. The bundled firewood eventually winds up at retailers such as Fred Meyer, Albertsons and Rite-Aid.

It's 100 degrees outside right now and we still had eight semi-loads to ship Monday ' that's a lot of wood, he says.

A second &

36;100,000 Cord King processor arrived Tuesday from Ottawa, Canada. It will hasten production and allow employees to begin filling a 120,000-square-foot warehouse. After the Cord King slices logs, a grid splitting wedge is used to apply a square cut. The wood dries on a black-top surface, then it's put into a hopper, goes on to a conveyor and then it's sorted on a round table. Jig loaders take the split wood and move chunks to wrapping machines.

The bundles are checked at a quality-control station for weight and measurements to accommodate standards set by different states. Finally, a 10-inch sisal rope is attached to the packages ' they weigh 16 pounds if it's softwood or 21 pounds if it's hardwood.

Northern California is a hardwood-only market because the people there are well educated about the vast amount of available oak, Short says. The Northwest is a softwood market and so is Los Angeles.

The biggest player in that region or any other part of the West Coast, he says, is California Hotwood in the San Joaquin Valley community of Lodi. A Hotwood spokesman declined comment for this story, but Short says 29-year-old California Hotwood has &

36;30 million in annual sales.

Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc. Executive Director Gordon Safley, whose mission includes enticing businesses to the area, says Westwood One Firewood's arrival was unique.

They knew where they wanted to be, Safley says. They had done their homework and a central part of their supply market existed here. Normally, companies look at three or four areas and try to eliminate people off that list depending on what the (economic) drivers are.

In the spring of 2003 the Shorts began looking for a nice place to live that also had plenty of private timber. Medford, with Interstate 5 slashing through downtown, proved an optimal location.

Raw logs arrive at the White City plant at an irregular pace ' maybe four or five truckloads on some days, and none on others.

We're cranking it up a notch, Short says. We've only been around since June and it takes a while for people to figure we're out there and then a while longer to figure out we actually pay our bills. But after a year, the entire logging community will be interested for sure.

Greg Short of Westwood One Firewood in White City took delivery of this $100,000 Cord King log splitter from Canada on Tuesday. He?s ramping up production for wholesale bundled firewood, most of which he says will be sold in Southern California. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli