Volunteers with the Northern Arizona Red Cross Disaster Action Team are used to giving aid to victims of house fires. However, this December has been an especially busy month.
“I would say in Flagstaff we are dealing with double the house fires we normally have,” DAT Program Manager Brooke Clanton said.
The DAT team has helped a large number of families during a month where heavy snow would usually prevent the dry conditions that created some of these house fires.
The DAT team has assisted nine families affected by house fires, with money for clothes, food and lodging across Northern Arizona this month, with five of the fires occurring in Flagstaff.
“It has been a pretty busy month for us,” volunteer Brad Barnett said.
The Red Cross DAT program is meant to give residential fire victims immediate assistance after a fire.
Volunteer Lesly Livingston said her team is essential to helping people who are in shock after a tragedy.
“We are trying to give people enough money to buy a couple of outfits, get some food or find some lodging while they wait for their insurance to kick in or they figure out what they are going to do next,” Livingston said. “A lot of people have just lost everything so they shouldn’t have to worry about what they are going to eat or where they are going to stay.”
Northern Arizona Red Cross Executive Director Frank Boruget said that the DAT team expects more house fires during the holiday season because people are inside using their heaters.
“The holiday season is always a busy one for us because families are inside to escape the cold and they are using fireplaces, space heaters, coal and firewood to heat their homes. We expect house fires this time of year,” Boruget said. “But we also usually have some rain and snow by this time and I think the dryness has been the reason for this increase in house fires.”
The Red Cross finds out about victims through the local fire departments, who give out information about the DAT program.
“We have a really good working relationship with all the fire departments,” Clanton said. “They know who we are and they give our information to people so they can call us if they need help.”
The DAT team also helps people get through the emotional and mental toll of a house fire by directing victims to free counseling sessions and helping them navigate through complicated insurance policies.
“We try and stay with people through the whole process,” volunteer Brad Barnett said. “We can help you get counseling if you need it or we can help you with insurance if you need that.”
Livingston said that after people have the bare necessities they just need some compassion.
“I let people know that I have been through a house fire myself or if they need a hug I give them a hug,” Livingston said. “We just want people to know that we are here to help and we let them know that we are here to help through our words and actions.”