The Ottumwa Courier

December 12, 2013

Red Cross responding more often in cold weather

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — With all of the good that comes from this time of the year, it has to be equaled out by one thing that is just downright terrible: house fires.

As noted in previous Courier articles, Ottumwa has been far busier than usual in 2013 with structure fires, and this seems to be the time of year when they are most prevalent. Not only does that mean firefighters are responding to more calls than they have in the past, but workers from the American Red Cross are also keeping very busy with providing assistance to those at residential fires.

According to Kara Kelly, Regional Communications Officer for the Red Cross serving Greater Iowa, volunteers have been called to residential fires 54 times since Nov. 1 in 49 counties around Iowa. Just in the past week, there have been 13 instances where volunteers have had to provide assistance in 10 different counties, including Van Buren and Davis counties, and that number seems to be growing by the day.

Not only have there been quite a few fires of late, but they have been spread all around Iowa, causing Red Cross volunteers to have to go to all corners of the state. It seems, according to Kelly, that once the weather gets cold, residential fires seem to heat up.

“Quite honestly, it has been all over the state,” she said. “There isn’t really a fire season, but we tend to be a little busier when it gets colder.”

The high number of calls was echoed by Janelle Schmid, from the Ottumwa American Red Cross office, who said they have kept busy assisting fire victims recently.

“It has been fairly steady, and this is the time of year when it picks up,” she said.

Although Red Cross gets called for assistance at these residence fires, sometimes they get good news that the family has the proper insurance and doesn’t need the services Red Cross offers. But, unfortunately, that isn’t always the situation. Kelly said they have opened 64 cases since Nov. 1, and usually in each case they are providing assistance to an entire family, not just one person.

“Usually there are two or more individuals for each case,” she said. “We’ve had a couple of fires recently that involved parents and more than two children.”

Why have Red Cross volunteers been called to homes more recently? Well, that answer isn’t exactly easy to narrow down to a particular reason.

“There is no one pinpoint for a cause,” Kelly said. “It is really just a busy time of the year for people. We certainly see more heating and cooking related fires this time of year.”

With the numerous reasons why fires start, the American Red Cross is urging everyone to take the proper precaution to try and stay safe. Simple steps like keeping track of the food you are cooking for Christmas dinner or checking your smoke detectors can go a long way to keeping your family safe.

— To see reporter Josh Vardaman's Twitter feed, go to @CourierJosh