By JOSH NEWTON
In July and August, the Eastern Oklahoma Red Cross assisted three Cherokee County families in the wake of house fires.
Between July 1, 2012, and June 30, 2013, the EORC office in Muskogee helped 25 families in Cherokee County – and a total of 117 in its three-county area – recover from residence fires.
National Fire Prevention Week is Oct. 6-12. With colder months approaching, Ryan Hardaway, director for EORC, wants families to be aware of potential dangers as they light their furnaces and fireplaces, and make use of space heaters.
“The No. 1 start of house fires is in the kitchen with the cooking of food,” Hardaway said. “Other frequent causes are old electrical wires or smoking in bed. But winter means many fires will be caused by space heaters, or people not checking their furnaces and chimneys.”
To reduce the chances of fire, the American Red Cross suggests professional furnace and fireplace inspections every fall.
In some homes space heaters are a necessity, but they must never be left unattended. The Red Cross says such heaters should be placed on a hard non-flammable surface, and placed a minimum of three feet away from “anything and anyone, including pets.”
Equally important to prevention is preparation in the event of a house fire.
“Make sure the family has an escape plan,” Hardaway said. “There should be an established meeting place where it can be determined everyone is safe. Don’t go back inside for stuff. Everyone will want to save something from the fire, but nothing is worth risking lives.”
Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on every floor double the occupants’ chances of surviving a fire, and 65 percent of all fire deaths occur in a home without detectors. Batteries should be replaced each year.
Another important preparation is insurance, Hardaway said. If living in a home without a lien or renting, it can be a temptation not to carry coverage.
“I am actually surprised by the number of people who don’t have homeowner insurance,” Hardaway said. “Of the people we’ve helped in the last year, 70 percent had zero insurance. It is important to cover your home even if it is paid for. If you rent or don’t make much money, try getting a little policy. Renters coverage of $20,000 or $25,000 will replace a lot of stuff.”
The Red Cross can also offer help. Hardaway said those in Cherokee, Muskogee and Adair counties who are affected by house fires should call the EORC at (918) 682-1366.
“We can assist a family of four with between $800 and $1,000 worth of assistance,” he said.
Hardaway said safety is most adversely affected by complacency, and urged people to assess their homes carefully.
“Everybody says ‘it won’t happen to me,’” he said. “Those we assist are proof that it will happen to somebody, so people should take steps to prevent house fires and be prepared in case it does happen.”
More information is available online at redcross.org/prepare/disaster/home-fire. The site has links to fact sheets on fire safety, escape planning, home heating fires, cooking fires and smoke alarms.