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This fireplace rules

In Oslo, Norway a TV program aired on the topic of firewood, it consisted mostly of people in parkas chatting and chopping and then eight hours of a fire burning in a fireplace. Sources: The Age, The New York Times

No sooner had it begun on prime time, than the angry responses came pouring in.

“We received about 60 text messages from people complaining about the stacking in the program,” said Lars Mytting, whose best-selling book Solid Wood: All About Chopping, Drying and Stacking Wood — and the Soul of Wood-Burning inspired the broadcast.

“Fifty per cent complained that the bark was facing up, and the rest complained that the bark was facing down.”

One thing that does not divide Norway, apparently, is its love of discussing Norwegian wood. Nearly one million people, or 20% of the population, tuned in at some point to the program, which aired on the state broadcaster, NRK.

In a country where 1.2 million households have fireplaces or wood stoves, said Rune Moeklebust, NRK’s head of programs in the west coast city of Bergen, the subject naturally lends itself to television.

“My first thought was, ‘Well, why not make a TV series about firewood?”‘ Moeklebust said. “And that eventually cut down to a 12-hour show, with four hours of ordinary produced television, and then eight hours of showing a fireplace live.”

There is no question that it is a popular topic. Solid Wood spent more than a year on the non-fiction best-seller list in Norway. Sales so far have exceeded 150,000 copies not far below the figures for the Norwegian version of Fifty Shades of Grey, proof that thrills come in many forms.

National Firewood Night, as Friday’s program was called, opened with host Rebecca Nedregotten Strand, promising to “try to get to the core of Norwegian firewood culture — because firewood is the foundation of our lives”.

Various people discussed its historical and personal significance. But the real excitement came when the action moved, four hours later, to a fireplace in a Bergen farmhouse – the fire on National Firewood Night burned all night long, in suspenseful unscripted configurations.

Fresh wood was added through the hours by an NRK photographer named Ingrid Tangstad Hatlevoll, aided by viewers who sent advice via Facebook on where exactly to place it.

For most of the time, the only sound came from the fire.

“I couldn’t go to bed because I was so excited,” a viewer called niesa36 said on the Dagbladet newspaper website. “When will they add new logs? Just before I managed to tear myself away, they must have opened the flue a little, because just then the flames shot a little higher.

“I’m not being ironic,” the viewer continued. “For some reason, this broadcast was very calming and very exciting at the same time.”

The program was not universally acclaimed. On Twitter, a viewer named Andre Ulveseter said: “Went to throw a log on the fire, got mixed up, and smashed it right into the TV.”