• NEIA Red Cross

Disaster Volunteers Answer the Call During an Active February in Iowa

Updated: Mar 22


Home fires typically rise during the winter. This was certainly the case in throughout the state of Iowa this February as Red Cross volunteers responded to numerus single-family and multi-family home fires. Two common causes of home fires are cooking and unsafe home heating equipment. With COVID-19 keeping people home more and eating out less, the dangers of home fires increase.


In February 2021, the Red Cross responded to 62 home fires, setting up recovery casework with 115 households and assisting 247 individuals. That is a 47.6% increase in home fire responses over February 2020. The cases were up 82.5% from a year ago and the number of people assisted increased 39.5%.


Volunteers have worked tirelessly to address the immediate needs, including lodging, and have been working with residents to set up casework to get residents started on their road to recovery.


Included in these responses were two multi-family fires in Boone and Ottumwa that resulted in the Red Cross setting up disaster response operations.


On Feb. 7, a fire in a six-story building in Boone, Iowa, displaced residents from 20 units. Five days later, a fire occurred at Colonial Motor Inn in Ottumwa, Iowa. The hotel had been occupied by several long-term residents, who were displaced following the fire. In both cases, the Red Cross mobilizing people and resources to address the needs of those affected.


In the last three weeks, the Red Cross has provided more than 350 overnight stays to those impacted by these two multi-family fires. Additionally, more than 1,000 meals and snacks have been delivered to residents, and recovery casework has been set up with more than 35 households.


Disasters don’t stop during a pandemic

While much of our lives have changed due to COVID-19, the American Red Cross continues to provide the same support it always has. The Red Cross is helping families after disasters of all sizes, making sure they have a safe place to stay, food to eat and tools to help them recover.


We are following guidance from the CDC and local public health authorities—and have put in place additional precautions including social distancing protocols, face covering, health screenings and enhanced cleaning procedures. Following fires or other disasters, the Red Cross is tailoring its services to meet the needs of those affected. Local volunteers are providing critical on-the-ground relief to their neighbors, will some services are provided virtually when appropriate.


In most cases, the Red Cross is utilizing non-congregate sheltering in local hotels in providing accommodations to impacted residents. This is the preferred sheltering option during this current pandemic in order to protect residents and our workforce. If congregate shelters are needed, the Red Cross is prepared to offer that service with proper safety protocols in place to ensure a safe environment.


Stay safe

The Red Cross offers these tips for keeping yourself and your family safe.


Home Heating Safety

  • If using a space heater, look for a model that shuts off automatically if the heater falls over. Place the heater on a level, hard and nonflammable surface in the home.

  • Keep all potential sources of fuel like paper, clothing, bedding, curtains or rugs at least three feet away from space heaters, stoves or fireplaces.

  • Portable heaters and fireplaces should never be left unattended. Turn off space heaters and make sure any embers in the fireplace are extinguished before going to bed or leaving home.

  • Keep children and pets away from space heaters.

  • Cut down on heating costs. Insulate the home by installing storm windows or covering the inside of windows with plastic to keep cold air out.

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

  • Keep fire in your fireplace by using a glass or metal fire screen large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs.

  • Test batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

  • Develop a fire escape plan and practice it with everyone who lives in the home.


Cooking Safety

  • Keep an eye on what you fry! Never leave cooking food unattended. If you must leave the kitchen, even for a short period of time, turn off the stove.

  • Move items that can burn away from the stove. This includes dishtowels, bags, boxes, paper and curtains. Also keep children and pets at least three feet away.

  • Avoid wearing loose clothing or dangling sleeves while cooking.

  • When frying food, turn the burner off if you see smoke or if the grease starts to boil. Carefully remove the pan from the burner.

  • Keep a pan lid or a cookie sheet nearby. Use it to cover the pan if it catches on fire. This will put out the fire. Leave the pan covered until it is completely cooled.

  • Turn pot handles to the back of the stove, so no one bumps them or pulls them over.

  • Use a timer to remind yourself that the stove or oven is on. Check the kitchen before going to bed or leaving home to ensure all stoves, ovens and small appliances are turned off.


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