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If you buy or cut wood for your fireplace, be cautious about oak wilt

You’ve got to be careful when buying firewood. Buying recently cut wood can spread oak wilt, common on Texas trees. The fungal disease can destroy a red oak in a matter of months. And if it’s cut up for firewood and hauled around the state, it can spread the disease. There are probably more than 50 centers of the disease in the Dallas area, says Jim Houser of the Texas A&M Forest Service, and 76 counties have reported the infection. Central Texas has been hit hardest, particularly around Austin.

“It’s still out there, folks,” Houser says.

Once it infects a tree, there is little that can be done to save it, and the disease is likely to spread to any nearby red oaks and live oaks. White oaks are not affected. Most of the fungus moves around the state on firewood, Houser says. Some of it is purchased from local retailers, some is hauled in from rural areas. Entrepreneurs in rural counties to the north and east often undercut a local wood yard’s prices for its limited supply. Hunters find fallen trees, ask owners for permission to cut them up and haul them home.

“That’s how we get oak wilt in Midland, in Houston, in Dallas,” Houser says.

Hunters should be especially careful if they plan to haul firewood back to the city from sites west of Interstate 35. To avoid spreading the disease, buy well-seasoned wood that was cut before summer. Summer heat destroys the fungus in cut firewood. Seasoned firewood is dry, with loose bark and cracked ends. If the firewood is fresh or from an unknown source, stack it away from landscape trees and cover it with clear plastic, burying the edges. “Take out the wood you need, then put the cover back,” Houser says. The oak wilt fungus is destroyed by fire. Oak wilt can strike all oaks but particularly likes red oaks. Red oaks that die of the disease should be burned, buried or chipped. To help keep trees healthy, avoid pruning or otherwise cutting oaks from February to June. Hot summers and cold winters destroy the fungus. Promptly use a thin coat of latex or pruning paint to cover any cuts.

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