Archive for Monday, January 7, 2008

Red Cross helps Lawrencians displaced by house fires

January 7, 2008


House Fire Prevention Tips

House fires occur more often during the winter, in large part because of supplemental heating. Here are some house fire prevention tips from the U.S. Fire Administration for Citizens:

¢ Provide proper venting for all heating equipment.

¢ Never use fuel-burning appliances without proper room ventilation.

¢ Never fill a kerosene heater while it is operating or hot, and don't fill it with cold fuel because it may expand in the tank as it warms up.

¢ Do not place any objects or materials on space heaters. Turn off space heaters when you leave a room or your home.

¢ If using an electric heater, don't overload the circuit. Use extension cords that have the necessary rating to carry an amp load.

¢ Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended. Extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house.

¢ Soak hot ashes in water, and place them in a metal container outside your home.

¢ Blow out candles when you leave a room.

Natalie Clayton, 21, awoke just before 3 a.m. Dec. 9 to a banging on her front door and the realization that her house was on fire.

The Kansas University student from Omaha ran out the front of 1129 Vt., barefoot, in the dress and tights she wore the night before.

In shock, she huddled in the cold Sunday morning and watched as flames destroyed the three-story home she and six roommates rented.

"It was kind of a blur," Clayton said. "To me it didn't look that bad when I saw it from the outside. When they took us to the station just to get us away from the fire, the fire chief said, 'I don't think anything will be left of your house.' It didn't seem as bad when as I saw it and then the roof collapsed."

To Clayton's surprise, help and support was immediate from the Douglas County chapter of the American Red Cross and Kansas University. All seven roommates were KU students preparing for finals that week.

Whenever disaster strikes in the county, about 30 Red Cross volunteers, who range from 18 to 60 years old, are on call to help. In recent months, volunteers have responded to several house fires, a common occurrence during winter.

Single-family house fires are the No. 1 disaster in Douglas County, according to Jane Blocher, local Red Cross executive director.

In a fire, people can suffer substantial losses and may not be able to return home for months - if at all. Renters insurance is also a rarity in Lawrence, fire officials said, which can make the road to recovery long and costly.

"There are lots and lots of people we have assisted that if it wasn't for the Red Cross, they would have been homeless," Blocher said. "There's a lot of need in Douglas County and a lot of people who don't have the financial means to recover."

The most recent house fire was Christmas night on the 1600 block of Oxford Road in central Lawrence. The residents escaped unharmed and didn't require help from the Red Cross. But for the residents of the Vermont Street fire and another house fire at 2609 Pickwick Place, their support was vital, especially the emotional support that volunteers can provide on scene.

The Red Cross offers short-term emergency assistance such as a three-night stay at the Holiday Inn Holidome, a clothing and food allowance and, sometimes, help with medication and eye glasses. They also can work with other agencies that can help.

"It gives them time to get plan B going," Blocher said. "Time to regroup and decide what their next living arrangement is going to be."

For the students who lost almost everything in the Vermont Street fire, KU's Office of Student Success also provided academic help so the students could finish the semester.

In fact, Ann Eversole, KU assistant vice provost, met the students at the police station the night of the blaze.

"It was, considering the hour, it was absolutely short of a miracle that nobody got injured," she said.

The seven displaced women were offered rooms at KU residence halls and textbooks, and the KU athletic department also gave them coats and backpacks. The Red Cross gave each a clothing allowance of about $130. Clayton said she stayed with friends and bought necessities at Target. She said friends offered their used clothes as well. Eversole was also responsible for contacting students' professors to inform them of the incident.

"I think it's absolutely essential for them to continue as students," Eversole said. "The reason they are here is to complete their university education and when these terrible emergencies happen, we ensure book replacement, that kind of thing. It's critical."

Both Blocher and fire officials suggest that students and other renters insure their belongings.

"Disaster assistance gives them clothes on their back, shoes on their feet," Blocher said. "It helps them get on the road to recovery, but it doesn't take the place of renters insurance or home owners insurance."

Clayton said neither she nor her roommates had renters insurance. Because they will be unable to return to their home, she said their landlord had another seven-bedroom house available for them.

Rich Barr, a division chief with the Lawrence Douglas County Fire Medical department, said that at 98 percent of the structure fires he responds to, residents say they don't have renters insurance.

"Seventy-five dollars a year is a big deal," he said about insurance. "When they lose it all, they lose it all."


Danielle Brunin 10 years, 4 months ago

After the fire at our apartment complex in July 2005, the Red Cross was there almost immediately. They were wonderful. Fortunately, we and all but one of our neighbors had renters insurance so we didn't need assistance, even though they insisted on paying for one night in a hotel. It saved us at least $20,000.

I think a lot of people are under the impression that renter's insurance is expensive, but it usually runs about $17 a month, and you get a discount on your car insurance. I know that is a lot in the limited budget of a college student, but it is so worth it. There is also the liability aspect because if you are a victim because somebody else starts a fire, you replace your belongings and try to move on. However, if you accidentally start a fire, you are going to be sued by everyone else's insurance companies for their losses. We decided that there was no way in good conscience that we would sue our neighbors for our deductible. However, we couldn't stop our insurance company from suing to recoup their losses. Multiply $20,000 by five, for the other people in the complex who had renter's insurance, plus the apartment complexes insurance company (total losses were about $250,000). You are easily looking at $350,000 that you are liable for. Not a good situation.

vinividivici 10 years, 4 months ago

'The Kansas University student from Omaha ran out the front of 1129 Vt., barefoot, in the dress and tights she wore the night before."

Completely unnecessary but I'm still giggling....

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