By MARGARET THOMPSON
WARREN - The Mahoning Valley Red Cross has been busy.
Typically, the Red Cross deals with about two fires per week, said Executive Director Karen Conklin, but over the past two weeks they have responded to more than 10. In the last month, they were called to assist victims of more than 15 fires.
These numbers may seem high overall but are common from December to March in what they consider "fire season," Conklin said.
Much of the increase in fires is due to alternative heating sources such as fireplaces and space heaters, she said.
Recent home fires
Jan. 20 - Mother and son die in Jackson house fire.
Jan. 21 - Fire destroys home on Larry Lane in Bazetta.
Jan. 25 - Woman dies in Howland house fire.
Jan. 26 - Condo fire displaces four families in Bazetta.
Jan. 28 - Woman dies in Boardman apartment fire.
Saturday - House fire in Southington causes $25,000 in damage.
Monday - Fire destroys Champion home and damages adjacent daycare.
There is a team of 24 on-call volunteers on the Disaster Action Team who arrive on site when a fire is called in.
One of them, Furman Arvan, said he has been a disaster response volunteer with the Red Cross for the last four to five years. He responded to several recent fires, including the Jan. 21 fire in Bazetta that destroyed the mobile home of a family of four.
After receiving a call from police about the Bazetta fire, the Red Cross dispatched two volunteers to the Larry Lane location. Arvan said when he arrived as a "second responder," he found the police chief, who then directed him to the family that was displaced.
Arvan said he was one of the first people to bring good news to the family - he was able to offer them three nights in a hotel, as is the organization's standard assistance allotment. He was also able to offer them money for food and clothes if necessary.
"We're not an insurance company, but we're there to help them get their head on straight," he said.
Arvan also responded to a fire at the Mill Creek Village Apartments on Jan. 28 in Boardman that claimed the life of Shawna Carney, 45. The blaze also damaged 18 of the 36 units at the complex.
"When you've had a fire, you feel like you've been violated because you're not a fault," he said.
While the Red Cross keeps cases confidential, Debbie Chitester, disaster specialist for the neighboring Akron and Red Cross, said they are still assisting the family.
Chitester said the process of recovering from a fire disaster can vary from a few days to the Red Cross' maximum 30 days. Most of the time it takes about two weeks for families to find a new place to live. Part of Chitester's job is guiding families in their recovery plan.
"I had a man say, 'I've never done this before.' I told him most people haven't," Chitester said.
She uses a national database of cases to continue follow-ups with the displaced families. The Red Cross also offers mental help for those going through traumatic experiences such as fires.
The Red Cross response to the Boardman apartment complex fire was slightly different. Because the organization must comply with national donation procedures, individuals wishing to make monetary donations to the victims of the fire are being referred to the Mahoning Valley United Way, while the Red Cross is keeping a list of individuals who have called in with donations of furniture to determine who will need what.
When the Red Cross becomes aware of a fire that looks like it will take a considerable amount of time to extinguish they will bring a canteen out to the site. Arvan said at the Boardman fire three volunteers provided food and coffee to the firefighters and victims at the site. The Canfield Panera donated the food.
The Red Cross is government-mandated to respond to disasters, though their founding principles do not allow government donations for funds. They rely solely on donations.
Not long after the Larry Lane fire, four more Bazetta families were aided by the Red Cross when a fire broke out Jan. 26 at a condominium on Lakeview Drive. Crews from Howland, Vienna, the Youngstown Air Reserve Base, Mecca, Johnston, Bazetta and Champion assisted.
No one was injured.