After 18 months of controversy, the Brown Darby Salvage Timber finally sold.

Sierra Pacific Industries has bought the trees, scorched in the September 2001 Darby Fire on the Stanislaus National Forest. The fire burned near Arnold on the Calaveras and Tuolumne county lines.

The logs should provide enough wood for 400 homes, and SPI spokesman Ed Bond said he expects most timber to be cut at the Standard or Chinese Camp mills. Loggers could hit the forest as early as next week.

Stanislaus spokesman Jerry Snyder said SPI bid $281,910 for the wood $1,500 more than the Forest Service's asking price.

"We worked long and hard to get this to come through," Snyder said. "We had to work closely with the community and industry to work out the problems that existed in the original proposal."

The 6 million board-foot sale was first advertised April 1. But when April 14 arrived the last day to turn offers in no bids had come in.

Before the sale was first advertised, many loggers criticized the Forest Service for taking a year and a half to put the trees on the market. When the wood finally went up for bid, many people said insects, rot and disease had deteriorated the logs so much that after paying the Forest Service's minimum bid and their own harvesting expenses companies could not turn a profit.

At the time, SPI representatives said the sale's requirement that any buyer clear and stack biomass trees too small for sawlogs, but big enough to fuel a wildfire further soured the deal.

The logging giant's decision came one week after SPI temporarily laid off 37 workers at its Chinese Camp mill, saying there were not enough logs to keep the blades moving.

This timing laying off workers one week and turning down a timber sale the next drew harsh remarks from the company's critics.

Still, Forest Service officials rewrote the prospectus and re-advertised the sale a week later.

This time, SPI submitted a bid and was the only logging company to do so.