Red Cross sees increase in house fires during cold snap

By Sylvia Hall – bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - The cold beginning to 2010 has been disastrous for some South Mississippians.  The Red Cross has responded to 28 house fires the first week of January from the Hattiesburg area to the Coast.  That's 4 times the average weekly amount.

"The fact that this is record-setting low temperatures this first week of January, and that we have served 28 people, that's been $15,000 worth of assistance that's gone out in 1 week," explained Paige Roberts of the Southeast Mississippi Red Cross Chapter.  "That's highly unusual."

Roberts said her chapter alone had helped four families affected by fire this week, even though they average one per week.  Roberts said not all the fires have been caused by cold weather, but she said its no coincidence the number of house fires increased as the temperatures dropped.  Roberts said space heaters and small fires built for warmth are common culprits during this time of year.

The Red Cross released this list of cold weather home safety tips:

Heat Your Home Safely

  • All heaters need space! Keep things that can burn, such as paper, bedding or furniture, at least 3 feet away from heating equipment, fireplaces and stoves.
  • Place portable space heaters on a hard, level, nonflammable surface. Do not put space heaters on rugs or carpets, near bedding or drapes, and keep children and pets away. Look for a model that shuts off automatically if the space heater tips over. Do not use heating equipment to dry wet clothing.
  • Never use the stove or oven to heat your home.
  • Never leave portable heaters, wood burning stoves or fireplaces unattended. Turn them off before leaving or going to bed.
  • Keep the fire in the fireplace by using a glass or metal screen large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs.

Outdoor Safety
If you must go outside—

  • Avoid overexertion, such as shoveling heavy snow, pushing a car or walking in deep snow. The strain from the cold and the hard labor may cause a heart attack, so take frequent breaks and stay hydrated.
  • Wear layered lightweight clothing, which will keep you warmer than a single heavy coat. Gloves and a hat will prevent loss of body heat.
  • Wear waterproof, insulated boots to keep your feet warm and dry and to maintain your footing in ice and snow.
  • Walk carefully on snowy, icy sidewalks.

Seek medical attention immediately if:

  • You have symptoms of hypothermia, including confusion, dizziness, exhaustion and severe shivering.
  • You have symptoms of frostbite, including numbness, flushed gray, white, blue or yellow skin discoloration, numbness, or waxy feeling skin.

The Red Cross is currently looking for volunteers, especially those people willing to help with case work.  To volunteer, contact your local chapter.

MS Gulf Coast Chapter: 228-896-4511

Southeast MS Chapter: 228-762-2455

South Central MS Chapter: 601-582-8151

Pine Belt Chapter: 601-426-9071

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