Fires Put Strain on Red Cross

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Two fires Friday in Lackawanna County forced 21 people from their homes. They were just the latest people to need to the help of the local American Red Cross chapter.

Firefighters in Carbondale battled a smokey scene Friday afternoon after officials said a child playing with a lighter started a fire in part of a double block home on Wyoming Street.

The American Red Cross came to help the 17 people forced out after the fire quickly spread to the other side and also damaged another home.

Red Cross officials said despite the warmer winter, they have been averaging one disaster response per day, which has led to financial strain.

"Every day, there`s a house fire somewhere in northeastern Pennsylvania that`s leaving five, six, seven, 21 people homeless in a short period of time," said Brian Wrightson with the American Red Cross. "We`re here and we need to take care of our neighbors, and that`s when the expenses do mount."

The Red Cross was also called to help a family of four after fire damaged their home near Waverly. That family brought the total to 21 people who needed help in just one day.

In January, the Red Cross responded to more than two dozen fires that forced multiple people from their homes in Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties. With so many fires, the Red Cross`s budget has taken a huge hit.

"In the month of January alone, we spent nearly $20,000 helping our neighbors with food, clothing and shelter. That equates to about a third of the budget, in one month, for the entire year. So now we’re looking at a February where we’ve had 21 people burned out in one day, and the expenses mount," said Wrightson.

"Just up here in northeastern Pennsylvania, we`re through about 85 percent of our 12 month fiscal budget which started July 1. That is a huge amount of money spent and we still have four and a half, five months to go in our fiscal year," he added.

In addition to helping fire victims, emergency responders also depend on the Red Cross for assistance during disasters.

"Helping us with food, water, rehabilitation stuff we need when we get working on a fire," said firefighter Carl Schweinburg with the Carbondale Fire Department.

"Lot of things are going on at a fire scene and when the Red Cross takes over for families, taking care of them, it`s one less thing we have to worry about," Schweinburg added.

The American Red Cross receives no federal or state funding and relies strictly on donations.

"The community is where we receive our funding. The community is who helps their neighbor when a neighbor is in need.  The communities do rise up and help us. Now we’re asking the communities to once again help the Red Cross help their neighbors," said Wrightson.

If you would like to help, click on the American Red Cross website.