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Archive for Thursday, December 10, 2009

Major apartment fires present special challenge for Douglas County Red Cross

Red Cross director hopes donors will respond to needs

When a fire broke out Thursday morning at Cedarwood Apartments and displaced 14 people, it was the third major apartment fire in Douglas County in two months.

December 10, 2009

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Assistance to community

Here’s a look at the number of fires the Red Cross responded to in Douglas County and the number of displaced people who received support between July 1 and Dec. 10:

2009 10 fires, 56 victims2008 4 fires, 16 victims2007 5 fires, 14 victims

And for past two fiscal years — which run July 1 through June 30:

2008 18 fires, 69 victims

2007 20 fires, 48 victims

When a fire broke out Thursday morning at Cedarwood Apartments and displaced 14 people, it was the third major apartment fire in Douglas County in two months.

Jane Blocher, executive director of the county’s chapter of the American Red Cross, said having to handle three disasters that affect so many people in a short period of time has put a strain on the chapter’s annual $250,000 budget.

The chapter’s fiscal year begins in July. The Red Cross here typically responds to 20 to 30 disasters per year.

“A portion of our budget is designated for disaster relief services, but that’s based on a majority of those fires being single-family fires,” Blocher said. “When you have three back-to-back apartment fires, you can provide assistance to the same number of people that you would over the course of an entire year.”

The latest one occurred Thursday when firefighters were dispatched at 6:09 a.m. to a Cedarwood Apartments building, 2430 Ousdahl Road, said Division Chief Eve Tolefree, of Lawrence Douglas County Fire and Medical.

Lawrence police officers arrived and discovered heavy smoke coming from the bottom floor of the building, prompting fire crews to call for a second alarm.

Firefighters had the blaze under control 40 minutes later, Tolefree said. No firefighters were injured, and authorities accounted for all occupants of the building, she said.

Five units in the building sustained fire and smoke damage. Fire investigators Thursday were still trying to determine the cause of the fire estimate damages.

According to Douglas County records, Cedarwood Villa LLC owns the building. The buildings at 2414 and 2430 Ousdahl Road are appraised together at $800,000.

The Red Cross had to assist dozens of residents after fires in October at an Aberdeen South Apartments building in southwestern Lawrence and the Rose Gardens Apartments at Fifth and Wisconsin streets.

“This is just an unprecedented year of large disasters that impact a large amount of people,” Blocher said.

Red Cross board members, staff and volunteers are nervous because they still have more than six months to go in the fiscal year. That includes the rest of this winter — and the county’s severe weather season in the spring.

Because of tough economic times, donations have been down, Blocher said. So, chapter leaders are hoping the recent events will spur more people to donate.

“Donations ensure that we are going to be able to help these and all other victims in Douglas County, that our services will not be compromised that we will not have to reduce the level of assistance that we have to provide,” Blocher said.

People can call the chapter’s office at 843-3550 to find out more on how to make a donation. They can also donate directly online and clicking “Donate” on the home page.

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