Horses are still used in Bulgaria to carry logs up steep mountain slopes – Copyright AFP/File Nicolas ASFOURI
Winter is coming, but the sound of chainsaws still echoes on the forest-covered slopes of the northern Bulgarian mountains, as horses are ready to haul freshly cut wood up the steep trails.
Many in the poorest EU member of 6.5 million people have rushed to stock up on firewood as Europe wrestles with an energy crisis sparked by the war in Ukraine.
“Firewood is still the cheapest means of heating, and demand has tripled compared to last year,” Agriculture Minister Yavor Gechev said recently.
Gechev has asked people not to buy more wood than they need, as the usual deliveries of coal from Ukraine’s Donbas region have largely failed to reach Bulgaria.
More than half of Bulgarian households use coal and wood for heating, especially in rural areas where frequent power cuts make electricity unreliable.
Even before the current crisis, one in four Bulgarians could not heat their home adequately in winter, the highest percentage in the entire European Union, according to Eurostat data.
– ‘Harder every time’ –
In the mountainous region around Teteven, 4,800 households have ordered firewood, compared with less than 2,000 households last year, said Stoycho Moskovski, a press officer for the township of 18,000.
A lack of snow so far this year has allowed logging to continue well into December, said the head of the local state forestry farm, engineer Docho Dochev.
After workers fell young beeches high up in Teteven, the logs are cut into meter-long (3.3-foot-long) pieces for transport, mostly by horse due to the mountainous terrain.
On a cool day earlier this month, workers loaded the logs onto the saddles of a dozen patiently waiting horses.
They then began their short journey up a steep path in the forest to a place from where the wood can be loaded onto trucks.
Ten horses can carry about three cubic meters of firewood at a time and usually make two trips a day, Dochev told AFP.
In the nearby villages, on the way to Teteven, piles of logs were seen covering fences and stocks of firewood, cut and ready for the stove, filling sheds, balconies and stairs.
But not everyone has received their wood on time this year.
“Every year I use approximately the same amount of five cubic meters of wood for heating. But this year I waited quite a long time, more than two months, for delivery,” retiree Blagovesta Dogandzhiyska, 80, told AFP as a trucker unloaded logs in front of her home in Teteven.
This year, he is also paying double the 90 leva (45 euros) per cubic meter he spent last year.
“It’s very hard (to heat my house), and it’s getting harder all the time,” the retiree shrugged.