The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 23, 2014

Helping hand

— As the near-zero temperatures persist across the state, the risk of fire becomes even higher for families in West Virginia.

There are common-sense ways to reduce those risks in winter, when the majority of home fires occur.

- Keep space heaters 3 feet from any furniture or other flammable material.

- Turn space heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.

- Never use the oven to heat your home.

- Have your furnace checked annually by a certified technician.

From July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013, there were close to 600 single-family residence fires in West Virginia, and nearly 200 multi-family residence fires across the state.

We were reminded of the danger of fire not just by the cold temperatures we’re experiencing, but by a report about the American Red Cross.

The Red Cross is more familiar to us with its unceasing efforts to ensure blood supplies are adequate. But it does far more, including providing assistance worldwide from floods, earthquakes and man-made disasters as well.

It also helps fire victims right here at home.

The Heroes for Fire Victims campaign kicked off at the start of the year and will run through March 30. The Red Cross is seeking donations to help families recover from the catastrophe of losing lives, homes and possessions to a house fire.

Of those 800 or so annual residence fires in West Virginia, the Red Cross provided more than $400,000 to help West Virginians put their lives back together.

Coordinated by the Red Cross’ disaster program, Red Cross volunteers form Disaster Action Teams seek to help affected community members with the four steps of the Disaster Cycle: preparedness, planning, response and recovery, said Alayne Chapman, disaster program manager for 10 West Virginia counties, including Raleigh.

Responding to house fires makes up the largest portion of their work in West Virginia.

“They respond any hour of the day or night when there’s a fire,” Chapman said, helping families with food, shelter, clothing and even emotional support.

When residents are displaced, the Red Cross provides the family with three nights in a hotel room and money for groceries, clothing and shoes, Chapman said.

A family home that burns is not the kind of disaster of the scope of the recent chemical spill in the Elk River that affected hundreds of thousands of people.

But to that family, the effect of their loss can be shattering.

We urge West Virginians to share some of our generosity with the Red Cross, not by just giving blood, but by donating to the Heroes for Fire Victims campaign as well. All donations will go directly to help a West Virginia family displaced by a home fire. You can donate at the Beckley Red Cross chapter at 200 Industrial Dr. For more information, call 304-255-1508.

In dealing with the chemical spill, we proved that we could, in the end, cope with a large disaster.

We should lend a hand to help those in need after small disasters as well.