Stored energy is valuable, whether it be electricity, coal, natural gas or firewood. It’s also necessary to keep our homes warm and safe when it is bitter cold outside.

Area residents who heat with wood have been finding it harder than usual to keep their homes comfortable. The long, unusually cold season has strained wood supplies.

“Firewood is rough to come by,” Jon Sumner of Star Township, near Mancelona, said last week. “Everybody I’ve talked to has run out of firewood.”

People who rely on wood heat reportedly have been lining up at sawmills for a chance to buy enough firewood to keep their water pipes from freezing.

Some residents with woodstoves also have propane heat as a backup system. But propane can be even more expensive than firewood. And some homeowners rely solely on wood to heat their houses, with no backup.

A firewood shortage is a big deal, especially when temperatures remain bitter cold for days on end. An unheated home could threaten the lives of those living within.

This winter has been long, with few thaws to help homeowners conserve fuel use. Many residents, therefore, have used more fuel this winter than usual.

Natural gas just keeps flowing automatically into many households, keeping them snug and safe. Residents who heat with propane may need to schedule an extra tank fill. This winter has required most folks to devote a larger portion of their budget to heating costs than during the average, slightly more balmy cold season. But there have been few interruptions of fuel delivery.

Residents who heat with wood usually just schedule an extra delivery of firewood when they need it. But it’s hard to cut trees in deep snow. The supply chain for wood isn’t as seamless as a pipe leading directly to a furnace.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recognized this winter that some Michiganders were struggling with home heating, finding it hard and perhaps unaffordable to put wood in the stove. The DNR requires a permit to take fuelwood from state forest land. The department suspended that requirement Jan. 31 through Feb. 3, during a particularly bitter cold snap, so residents could gather wood to heat their homes.

Winter’s frigid grip on Michigan appears to be letting go. Temperatures are forecast to rise above the freezing mark most every day in the next week.

That’s good news for everyone, but particularly for our neighbors who heat with wood and have been watching their woodpiles grow smaller by the day.