Those FIAH fire starters work wicked good

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer

(Editor’s note: This is the first in an occasional series about how people in our area are making a living in today’s challenging economic times.)

HARRISON — “Be go-getters, not quitters.”
That’s always been the rule at the Ugosoli household. Beth and Pete Ugosoli’s two sons and two daughters know the saying by heart.
So when 12-year Harrison residents Beth and Pete both got laid off from their jobs in November of 2008, they looked each other in the eye.
“Now what?” their expressions said. Here it was, Thanksgiving, and suddenly both steady sources of income had ended. His, with Hancock Lumber and

Beth Ugosoli attends to one of her displays for her product, FIAH™ fire starters, at Food City in Bridgton.

hers, working for Downeast Engraving of Naples.
Instead of “boo-hooing,” however, they looked to their interests and abilities, preferring to employ some good old Yankee ingenuity. Pete started his own business, P & D Handyman, and also teamed up with Beth to form Property Watchers, providing property management and maintenance for area summer homes.

For Beth, the question of what to do, now that her kids were grown, was more open. She could go back to quilting, as in the days she ran her Home Sweet Home Quilts shop in downtown Harrison.
One day, she was twisting up newspapers to start a fire in the woodstove. The ink, as usual, smudged off on her hands. An environmentally-conscious person, she found burning the chemicals distasteful, and didn’t like breathing in smoke as the papers and kindling caught fire.
“I was tired of it,” she said. So, alone in her kitchen, she began experimenting with a cleaner, safer, easier fire-starter alternative. How about a mixture of wood and wax?
She thought of using paraffin wax, but it contains oil. Beeswax was also considered, and rejected.
Then she tried soy wax, topped with wax-coated shavings of green-certified wood and a few other “secret” ingredients. Heated and melted, then poured into molds, the hard round fire starters resemble rice cakes.
Although small, each of Beth’s FIAH Fire Starters pack quite a wallop: placed under three or four pieces of firewood, will burn for up to 20 minutes with a flame that extends up to eight inches high — plenty of heat and time to get a good fire going. There’s no need for kindling, or newspaper, or fatwood, or anything else.
Best of all, according to Beth, the soy, a biodegradable, renewable resource, is 100% natural and clean burning. There’s no need to use lighter fluid; a simple match is all it takes, and the soy ignites fast. They’re even safe around pets and children.
“The soy’s viscosity is such that it burns long and it burns hot,” she said. “It’s the right product, and the right time.”
Beth is careful to source her wood from only green-certified wood suppliers in Maine; she buys from Hancock Lumber and Robbins Lumber Co., which distributes to Paris Farmers Union. Sawdust, which can be carcinogenic, was ruled out. Her soy wax comes from soybeans grown in the U.S.A.
“I just have to get it into people’s hands — you only have to try it once and you’re sold,” Beth says. Each fire starter retails for under a buck in most locations, and she sells them individually, at different price points in packs of six, and in bulk.
Beth has found many willing distributors in the Greater Bridgton area, including Food City, the Corn Shop Trading Company, Hayes True Value, Tony’s Foodland, Paris Farmers Union in Bridgton, Longley’s Hardware in Norway and Hannaford Supermarket in Bridgton, Oxford, Windham, Gray and Portland. She also sells to area campgrounds and businesses that sell woodstoves.
Sales have grown steadily in the past two years. When she gets a big order, she puts her children to work to help fill it. Beth handles all the details of manufacturing, marketing and distribution. She’s been talking to a distributor that, if they agree to carry her product, would cause sales to jump way beyond what she can handle on her own. But for now, she said, “It’s building at a pace that’s comfortable for me.”
When she first got started she would set up a card table with a barbeque grill in front of stores to show people how her product worked. The amazed response from customers was heartening, leading her to continue building the
business.
She now has a website, www.fiahstarter.com, where people can place orders directly, or by calling her at 583-6584, or through e-mail at fiah207@hotmail.com.
It’s more than just a business for Beth, she says. “I’m building a legacy for my children,” aged 23, 25, 28 and 33. “I’m showing them that whatever you do, don’t give up on yourself. Be go-getters, not quitters. Take a hand-up, not a hand-out.”

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