Winter often a deadly time for fires

The cold weather and winter conditions often bring an increase in home fires as many people use alternate heating sources such as space heaters, fireplaces, or coal or wood stoves to stay warm. Fires related to heating are the second leading cause of home fires in this country, and fixed and portable space heaters are involved in 74 percent of fire-related deaths.

During the months of November and December, the American Red Cross in Greater N.Y. responded to 330 fires, helping 2,139 people affected by these incidents.

One of the more challenging fires was a five-alarm blaze that tore through a 66-unit Queens apartment building that affected over 100 people. The Red Cross and first responders had to make their way through the aftermath of the blizzard that hit New York City the day before to provide immediate relief to those affected by this post-holiday disaster. One couple, Frank and Aabye-Gayle Favilla, fled their apartment in sneakers and pajamas, and through their “wise” uncle, knew that the Red Cross would be there to provide for their immediate needs––food, clothing, shelter. “We love you guys,” said Aabye Gayle after working with a Red Cross caseworker to get the couple back on the road to recovery.

As the winter months continue and people look to keep their homes warm with various heating sources, including portable heaters, the Greater N.Y. Red Cross urges everyone to use caution when turning to these heating methods and offers the following safety tips on fire prevention:

·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.

·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. Keep children and pets away from space heaters.

·When buying a space heater, look for models that shut off automatically if the heater falls over as another safety measure.

·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.

·Have wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, chimneys, and furnaces professionally inspected and cleaned once a year.

Most people do not realize that home fires are the biggest disaster threat in this country – ahead of floods, hurricanes and tornadoes. In Greater N.Y. alone the Red Cross responded to nearly 2,000 fires in 2010 and provided assistance to the 11,000 people affected by these disasters.

“Planning for fire emergencies is important,” said American Red Cross in Greater N.Y. CEO Vikki Pryor. “Make sure all household members know two ways to escape from every room of your home, and set up a meeting place outside in case of fire. Practice escaping from your home at least twice a year and at different times of the day. Teach household members to stop, drop and roll if their clothing should catch on fire.”

Smoke alarms save lives, and people should install smoke alarms on every level of the home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas; check monthly that smoke alarms are working properly by pushing the test button; replace batteries in smoke alarms at least once a year, and replace smoke alarms every 10 years.

For more information about fire safety and steps to take to be prepared, visit

You can help people affected by disasters in New York and around the world by making a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for and provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance in response to disasters. Visit or call 1-877-REDCROSS (1-877-733-2767). Contributions may also be sent to American Red Cross in Greater New York, 520 W. 49th Street, New York, NY 10019.

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