When the American Red Cross is busy, it usually means that something bad has happened.
That has been especially true the past month in Niagara County.
An unusual spike in fires has put the Red Cross chapter that serves Erie and Niagara counties into action, responding to seven fires since Feb. 1. Volunteers from the Disaster Action Team provided immediate emergency assistance to 28 people affected by these incidents.
“We say we usually respond to a fire a day, for the entire region. So to have one county [with that many fires in a month] that is high, especially for that area,” Jay A. Bonafede, communications coordinator for the American Red Cross serving Erie and Niagara, said of the recent spike.
Bonafede said fires are more common this time of the year as people try to find alternate ways to warm up their homes but said it is unclear why there were more fires this month.
“There is no normal month. We need to be prepared when we are needed. That’s why we have volunteers on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s why we need constant support, not just when people see a major disaster that hits the news. These are a disaster, too,” Bonafede said.
The list of fire in Niagara County include:
• Feb. 1: Seven people were displaced by a fire at an apartment complex on Lafayette Avenue in Niagara Falls.
• Feb. 9: A single mother and her child needed help following a fire on Pound Street in Lockport.
• Feb. 12: Volunteers responded to an apartment fire on State Street in Middleport, assisting two adults from separate units.
• Feb. 13: Two adults and one child were given assistance after a fire on Niagara Street in Niagara Falls.
• Feb. 15: Two adults were assisted after a fire on Mapleton Road destroyed their home.
• Feb. 16: Two adults and three children were assisted after a fire destroyed their home on Ashland Avenue in Niagara Falls.
• Feb. 18: Two adults and five children were assisted after a fire in their home on Ohio Street in Lockport.
“It seems that no one was injured in these fires, so we are glad just to be able to provide humanitarian assistance to help these folks out,” Bonafede said. “It is definitely a traumatic event for these people, and we respond to it like a disaster. For those families they may have no place to live, no clothes to put on to go to work or school the next day. They may have no food to eat because it was all destroyed in that blaze that took away their home. So it is absolutely a disaster and a traumatic experience for them.”
The local Red Cross spends an average of just over $1,000 to assist a family of four in a single house. Assistance typically includes vouchers for temporary housing, food and clothing, as well as providing emotional support for those displaced by the fire.
The affected families then meet with caseworkers in the days following their respective disasters to work out a longer-term recovery plan.
“We have amazing support, but we need to raise money to do our job. The need is constant. We can be called at any time,” Bonafede said.
To make a donation to help families, visit www.redcross.org, call 1-800-REDCROSS, or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to charge a $10 donation to your cell phone bill.
Donations cannot go to specific families, but can be directed specifically to the Erie and Niagara County chapter online at redcross.org/buffaloniagara.