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The Biggest Disaster Threat to Families in America


Last year, the American Red Cross responded to tornadoes, floods, hurricanes and wildfires across the country. The relief efforts for those major disasters stole the national spotlight from morning print headlines to evening news broadcasts, but these disasters are not the biggest disaster threat to families in America. It is home fires.

The Red Cross responded to about 63,000 home fires last year. That’s one home fire every nine minutes. Cold weather during the winter months is a great reminder to put Red Cross fire prevention and safety measures into action. Keep your family safe in 2012.

Unlike other disasters, most home fires can be prevented. The Red Cross recommends two easy steps to help protect your home and loved ones from a fire:

  • Get a smoke alarm
  • Create a fire escape plan.

Not all home fires are the same. Some affect a single home; some affect an entire apartment complex or an entire street. In January, the Red Cross responded to a fire at The Missouri Hotel in Springfield, Missouri where more than 100 guests were affected.

Within a few hours, Red Cross disaster workers set up two shelters, provided snacks and bottled water as well as necessary items like diapers, baby formula and clothing packs. Working with the Salvation Army, the Red Cross served more than 700 hot meals in the aftermath.

In addition to the hotel fire in Missouri, large-scale fires have also affected multiple homes in Indiana, Massachusetts and New Jersey in the first month of this year.

However, the majority of home fires to which the Red Cross responds do not make headlines. Most are small, personal tragedies.

Every night in America, while most of us are sleeping, Red Cross volunteers are standing on the lawn of someone who just lost their home and everything they own in a fire. Volunteers give them a blanket to keep warm, a hot cup of coffee, a place to stay for the night, and a plan to get back on their feet.

Six-month-old Brianna Carrillo takes a nap on a cot at the American Red Cross shelter in Union City, New Jersey after her family was forced from their home by a massive, eight-alarm fire. Photo Credit: Diane Concannon/American Red Cross

Fires can spread quickly and every second counts. The Red Cross is committed to teaching people the skills they need to prevent home fires, and helping people recover after a fire happens. To help reduce your risk, use the Red Cross Fire Prevention Checklist.