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“He Was Such a Calming Influence:” Stories from the Front Line as Home Fires Surge in 2018

Home Fires Surge in 2018
Across the state, the Red Cross provided lodging, clothing, food and comfort to 726 people that first week

By Jay Lawrence, volunteer

ATLANTA, GA, January 18, 2018 -- Home fires across Atlanta and the entire state of Georgia soared with the cold of early January 2018, and the Red Cross has been there for those who suffered. In the first week alone, the Red Cross helped 335 people in Atlanta, twice as many as the average week in December, as volunteers responded to 44 fires.

Across the state, the Red Cross provided lodging, clothing, food and comfort to 726 people that first week, also twice as many on average in December, and assisted after 152 fires.

The upswing mirrored what happened nationally.  In the first nine days of the year, volunteers went to 3,150 fires, 60 percent more than in 2017, and were helping 12,500 people.

Here’s a closer look at one of the first families affected in the new year in Atlanta – and the views of a volunteer who was frequently called out to help.


“He was such a calming influence”

Tim Donehoo and his wife were quietly celebrating the new year, watching television in their house in Clarkston.  Their son was elsewhere.  Not long after midnight, they smelled something funny.  Then they heard the “beep-beep-beep” of a smoke alarm.

“The bathroom was just full of smoke,” Donehoo said.  The exhaust fan had caught fire.

They left the house safely and called 911.  Soon it was bedlam.

“It was just crazy,” he said.  “Our heads were spinning.  There were five firetrucks there – and it was cold.”

The fire was soon out, but there was a lot of damage.

Then to Donehoo’s surprise the Red Cross came to the scene.  “I always thought of the Red Cross for disasters like hurricanes and floods,” he said.  But not home fires.

Volunteer Jim Tudor asked Donehoo to join him in the warmth of his Red Cross vehicle, where they could talk and fill out some paperwork.

“He was such a calming influence – and he was such a good person,” Donehoo said. “He starting asking questions I hadn’t even thought about, like, ‘What are you going to do with those smoky clothes?’”

Tudor had answers too, and the Red Cross was also able to help with emergency items and assistance.   But Donehoo appreciated the calm Tudor brought the most.  Tudor was “inspiring.”

“I had to ask him why he does this,” Donehoo said.  “And he said he had retired and wanted to do something to make him get out of bed every day.  I almost started crying.”


“This is no joke – we get a lot of fires”

One new Red Cross volunteer who has been responding frequently with Tudor is Nylgia Callaway.

She started in October, inspired by a co-worker who helped after the fall hurricanes.  The hurricane work was covered by then, she said, “so I just asked what can I do to help.”

So she joined the Disaster Action Team, which goes to home fires.  “It’s a good way to help out,” she said simply.

It’s also been eye-opening.  Callaway grew up in the Atlanta metro area, but she’s been to places she’d never seen before – from Forest Park to College Park to Stone Mountain to the Southside.  And she’s been at all times of the day and night.

That said, most of the calls have been within five miles of where she lives in East Atlanta.

She’s responded around 25 times, sometimes twice in a day.  “Most people have lost everything and they’re kind of in shock,” she said.

Because her job in information security has flexible hours, she’s able to balance her volunteer and professional work.

The surge in home fires began around Christmas Eve.  As a new volunteer, she said she has appreciated the help from veterans like Tudor.

And one thing she appreciates more than ever is smoke alarms.


“I tell my friends, you really need to check your smoke detectors,” she said.  “This is no joke – we get a lot of fires.”