Stealing everything and everywhere: take care of your firewood

Margus Martin
, ajakirjanik
Firewood can easily make a person with bad morals want to steal it.
Firewood can easily make a person with bad morals want to steal it. Photo: Urmas Luik
  • Logs are stolen from farmyards and camping sites.
  • Crooks make use of price rise.
  • Mayor of Paide: it is not easy for anyone.

The thefts of firewood and timber have increased since the arrival of autumn. Thieves carry away valuable stuff in armfuls, not to mention truckloads. Since September, about 80 such thefts have been reported to the police, a few dozen more cases than in previous years.

Timo Reinthal, Senior Commissioner of the Police and Border Guard Board, noted when speaking about the autumn period that some people have tried to leave shops with a bag full of firewood without paying at the cash register. “Some of the cases have taken place either in someone's farmyard or, for example, in the campfire sites of the State Forest Management Center (RMK), where outsiders have easy access to firewood,” he added.

In short, people are stealing from everyone and everywhere; the thieves are becoming increasingly bolder and arrogant. Some examples. In October, it was discovered that bushes and growing trees had been stolen from the edge of farmland in Lääne-Virumaa, and the loss amounted to thousands of euros. In the same month, a warehouse of the RMK in East Viru County was burglarized – the thieves stole 1,729 euros worth of birch plywood packages and birch logs. In September, 10 cubic meters of spruce firewood were stolen from RMK's warehouse in Võru County (damage 433 euros).

Log prices *

dried black alder (40 cm): 100–200 euro/m3

dried birch (40 cm): 160–200 euro/m3

dry coniferous tree (40 cm): 80–200 euro/m3

* dependent on whether logs are sold in a container or loose

Source: the Internet,

Thieves appreciate convenience

However, in Harju County, thieves took firewood cut the same day from a person's yard while he was shopping. An even more unusual incident took place in Viljandi County in September: the police were informed that suspicious persons were loading firewood onto a vehicle in a farm yard. The officers arrested the thieves and the logs were stacked again. In the same month, South Estonian police officers received a report that in Tartu, a couple of logs are stolen from a person's woodpile every night.

In October, the theft of a 15 cubic meters of birch paper wood was discovered in the storage area of a company in Järva County, which caused damage to the value of 2,000 euros. In the same month, thieves took 2 cubic meters of firewood from a property in Ida-Viru County. The damage was estimated at 250 euros.

RMK has made a dozen crime reports to the police in the last three months. All of them concern the theft of timber. In the case of campfire sites located in outlying places, it is unfortunately difficult for the company to monitor them and specify how many logs have been burnt at the camp site and what quantity has been simply carried away, said RMK PR officer Kristiina Viiron.

According to her, the amount of firewood apparently not burned in the campfire sites was been estimated at 70 cubic meters last year. This is less than three percent of the firewood consumed at campfire sites. RMK has 738 campfire sites across Estonia.

As for the stolen timber, thieves have taken more of it from RMK intermediate warehouses located near the settlements. During the ten months of this year, 150 cubic meters of timber worth 10,400 euros have been stolen from intermediate warehouses managed by RMK. In addition, 126 cubic meters of wood suitable for heating with a value of 3,850 euros have been stolen.

Privately owned firewood which has been stolen has mostly been stored in a shed or basement, which has been burglarized: door locks have been broken, and in one case the thieves did not consider it too much trouble to smash a wall to gain access to the shed. “In some cases, a neighbor has been stealing firewood, having a bad habit of taking one log or an armful from the neighbor's yard,” said Reinthal.

The police advise

Police Commissioner Timo Reinthal said that it helps if the wooden material is installed or stored in such a way that strangers cannot access it.

In a domestic household, the firewood could be in a closed room with a locked door. Also, if possible, one should install lighting with a motion sensor on it, which will help detect the moments when someone prowls the property with bad intentions.

Larger warehouses should also have lighting to deter criminals or a security guard.

The police commissioner also gave a few examples from Tallinn, where the residents had ordered their firewood from Latvia or Lithuania, made an advance payment of about 100 euros, and later wondered why the cheap firewood failed to arrive from five hundred kilometers away. “Only a few weeks ago, the police received a report that a resident of Viljandi communicated with an individual from Poland, who promised to sell him wooden briquettes cheaply. The money – a total of 6,820 euros – was paid in advance to a Belgian account instead,” the commissioner recalled. “The goods have not arrived and the victim cannot contact the Pole either. In addition, the police have received a few reports about the theft of wood chips, brush and growing trees.”

Reinthal noted that there has also been a slight increase in the number of cases when people have ordered firewood by phone or online, but the wood has not arrived and the money has not been returned either. “When making any transactions, you should think ten times before making an advance payment to an unknown person. Generally, all honest companies selling firewood allow payment when the goods are delivered,” said the commissioner. "Considering that the price of firewood has risen and people are desperately trying to find the cheapest possible price, crooks take advantage of this slightly panicky market situation. Seeing a cheaper price, the buyer no longer looks at the seller's background, quickly pays him in advance, and only later realizes that there were several signs of a scam.”

The loss amounts range from a few hundred euros to thousands of euros. Cases with larger losses are subject to criminal proceedings, minor property damage is subject to misdemeanor proceedings.

The mayor of Paide can understand the people

The Järva Teataja newspaper also wrote at the beginning of November that firewood has become so expensive that on several nights, firewood was stolen from the woodpile of Mayor of Paide Kulno Klein. The mayor himself did not make a big deal out of the incidents and clarified that it was not actually personal firewood, but rather firewood stored on the territory of his company. Klein also noted that he was surprised, having freshly taken over the role of mayor: when he was active in private business, such matters were of no interest to anyone but himself, while in his new position everything attracts attention. “If they steal an ordinary person's jacket, nobody pays any attention to it, but if a button falls off the front of the mayor's shirt, it's news,” the mayor of Paide laughed.

"We have to look at the bigger problem: we are currently in a (price) war. Consequently, someone needed them [firewood] more,” said the mayor. “I also can understand the people, because in reality, it is not easy for anyone. See what is happening with energy and heating prices and where the economy is going. Even Enn Veskimägi, the head of one of Estonia’s most well-known companies, Standard, has no clue. I cannot predict and I do not want to sound too morbid, but some people are lucky if they can see the green grass in the spring.”

Hard times are no excuse for theft – Tiiu Kerm, a psychologist

This is not so much a psychologist's view than a Christian's. I am not a passionate believer, I just had a Christian upbringing since childhood, but as a Christian I say that no motive can be a justification for stealing. There are always other ways to manage instead of just stealing.

In my opinion, this is the moral weakness of a person. If you are going to do something like that, you have to tell yourself: stop – this is an act which cannot be allowed or committed.

We have been through the same situation when we restored Estonia's independence. We were very poor then too. The principle “you take what is left unguarded” is a kind of remnant from the Soviet era. It was natural for the people, who worked in the collective farm, that they later also stole from the families on whose farm they worked: they stole piglets, animal fodder, milk, or skimmed the milk.

If we look more generally at what is happening in society, we do not put any emphasis on morality at all. As they say: What is permissible for Jupiter is not permissible for a bull. But people still follow the example [of those in power].

The Ten Commandments are elementary, but our society lacks such things today, and the society is sick. Homes do not teach ethics and morality. This is actually a huge work what the schools face and should do.

Translated by Kristjan Tedre.