Chapter spokesman Josh Murray says the agency’s volunteer responders were sent to nearly 300 disasters statewide during the first six months of the year and nearly all of them were house fires. “In January and February, we saw a large increase in those numbers,” Murray says. “Usually we see probably closer to 250ish in the first half of the year.”
Between January 1st and June 30th, the Red Cross responded to 297 incidents in Iowa, with 95-percent of them being home fires, assisting a total of 1,281 individuals. While every house fire is different, Murray says one factor they all have in common is that they happened during the pandemic.
“More people are home, more people are eating at home, they weren’t going out so they’re cooking at home, people are working at home so maybe they were using space heaters more to heat their house,” Murray says. “We’re still seeing some now, at this time of year. You get to the summer, we don’t usually see as many home fires, but in June we saw close to 50 in the state of Iowa.”
Murray says he’s concerned about the increase in house fires overall and the boost in fires during the summer months.
“We’ve seen this trend of increased fires across the entire state,” Murray says. “It wasn’t just the one area, like just rural areas or urban areas. We’ve seen it from west to east and north to south, all across. It’s definitely one reason we’ve put out the word to make sure people are being cautious with home fire safety.”
When a Red Cross volunteer responds to a house fire in Iowa, they do a lot more than just wrap a blanket around the person who may’ve just lost everything they owned. “Most of the time, it’s finding them a place to stay, finding them a hotel for a couple of nights, maybe get them some meals if we need to,” Murray says. “Helping line up any other services they might require, maybe they lost medicine in the fire and they need help getting a prescription refilled. Or they need storage space to store some stuff they were able to salvage from their home.”
In many cases, the aid the Red Cross provides is not just over a few days, he says, rather weeks and even months. The agency provides a range of assistance in times of disaster through the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.