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American Red Cross Helps More Than 140 People After Home Fires in 20 Days

Fire Responses
“Our committed volunteers are bringing comfort and care to the affected families.”

OMAHA, NEB., Friday, December 20, 2013 — It has been an extremely busy December for disaster responders across the Nebraska/SW Iowa Region of the American Red Cross. Since December 1st, nearly 145 people have been forced out of their homes after a heartbreaking fire. In the past week, nearly 80 well-trained disaster action teams have braved the bitter cold and answered the call for help 42 times. Based on each family’s needs, the Red Cross is helping with food, clothing and/or shelter.

 “Our committed volunteers are bringing comfort and care to the affected families,” said Tina Labellarte, Region CEO. “The Red Cross encourages the more than 2 million people who live in our Region to take the extra steps to reduce your risk of a home fire, not only in cold weather, but especially during the holidays.” 

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are two of the top days for cooking fires, according to the National Fire Prevention Association. Nationally, the Red Cross responds to a disaster on average every eight minutes, and the vast majority of them are home fires.

Holiday Decorating

  • Choose decorations that are flame resistant or flame retardant.
  • Keep children, pets and decorations away from lit candles.
  • Keep matches and lighters up high in a locked cabinet.
  • Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Connect no more than three strands of mini light sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs. Read manufacturer’s instructions for the number of LED strands to connect. Some strings of lights are only for indoor or outdoor use, but not both.
  • Use clips, not nails, to hang lights so the cords do not get damaged.
  • Keep decorations away from windows and doors.

The Red Cross has some simple steps everyone can follow to prevent home fires around the holidays:

 Holiday Entertaining

  • Test your smoke alarms.
  • Check food regularly while cooking and remain in the home while cooking. Use a timer as a reminder that the stove or oven is on.
  • Enforce a “kid-free zone” in the cooking area and make children stay at least three feet away from the stove.
  • Keep anything that can catch fire away from the stove, oven or any appliance in the kitchen that generates heat.
  • Clean cooking surfaces on a regular basis to prevent grease buildup.
  • Purchase a fire extinguisher to keep in the kitchen. Contact the local fire department to receive training on the proper use of extinguishers.

“In addition to recent fires related to alternate heating sources in cold weather, we want to remind families that cooking is the leading cause of home fires.  Amidst the baking, cooking, entertaining, and stringing of lights this holiday season, we encourage families to take safety measures to ensure that their homes and loved ones are safe from the threat of fire,” said Labellarte.

The American Red Cross offers the following general winter fire prevention tips:


·         All heaters need space.  Keep all things that can burn (paper, matches, bedding, furniture, clothing, carpets, and rugs) at least three feet away from heating equipment.

·         Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended, and use a glass or metal fire screen to keep fire and embers in the fireplace. 

·         Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home.

·         Turn off portable space heaters every time you leave the room or go to sleep.

·         Have wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, and chimneys inspected annually by a professional, and cleaned if necessary.


·         If you must use a space heater, place it on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as ceramic tile floor), not on rugs, or carpets or near bedding or drapes. Plug power cords directly into outlets and never into an extension cord.

People should also download the free American Red Cross First Aid app, which provides instant access to information on handling the most common first aid emergencies. The apps can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store for Android by searching for American Red Cross or by going to


People can test their knowledge on how to prevent home fires by taking the Fire Safety Quiz, and can learn more about fire prevention by visiting

HOW TO HELP: People affected by home fires and other disasters need help now. You can help people affected by disasters big and small by making a gift to American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters. You can donate by visiting, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Your donation helps provide food, shelter and emotional support to those affected by disasters.

About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or join our blog at