When a blaze gutted a Dalton, Ga., apartment in February and killed a baby, firefighters raced to the scene. Workers with the American Red Cross followed close behind to help the displaced family find shelter and to provide clothes.
The Dalton chapter of the nonprofit disaster relief organization has responded to a record number of fires this year, and its coffers are drained six months into its fiscal budget, officials said.
“We’re operating the disaster assistance program at a deficit right now,” Dalton Red Cross Director Lane Ashworth said. “We will do the service regardless if the money is there or not, but it would be nice to get some money coming in.”
The organization has provided $20,000 in relief in the first six months this fiscal year, which is $8,000 more than was budgeted, records show.
The Red Cross chapter is counting on a national fundraising campaign called “Heroes for Red Cross” to help its bottom line.
The Dalton chapter hopes to raise $25,000 during the drive. All proceeds will help provide clothes, food and shelter to local disaster victims, Mr. Ashworth said.
The Dalton chapter isn’t the only area Red Cross branch seeing increases in calls.
John Hitchens directs disaster relief programs in Walker, Catoosa and Dade counties for the Red Cross of Greater Chattanooga. He said the increased need for disaster response is “pretty recognizable.”
This year the organization has spent $28,000 in disaster relief in the three Northwest Georgia counties, records show.
“That’s a fair amount for that period of time,” Mr. Hitchens said.
The Chattanooga Red Cross office is planning to soon open its first Georgia branch in Catoosa County to meet the demand. Mr. Hitchens said more disaster relief will be needed as population growth continues and there are more people living in apartment complexes.
“We have noticed a trend where we may go to fewer fires, but we go to fires that have larger number of people living there,” Mr. Hitchens said.
Dalton officials have seen a similar trend, with one apartment fire in October displacing eight families, Mr. Ashworth said. The Red Cross spent $2,500 to assist affected families, records show.
The large number of fires this year in Whitfield County has added to the drain on the Red Cross budget.
Whitfield County Fire Chief Carl Collins estimated a 40 percent increase in residential fires since November over the same period in 2007.
“There were four days when we would get back from one, and we would be called out to another,” he said about a recent week. “It’s probably the most residential fires we’ve had in one season for probably four years or more.”
Chief Collins said he doesn’t know what caused the increase in fires. He said the department is continuing its education programs to curb residential fires.
In the meantime, Chief Collins said he is glad the Red Cross is there to help. In addition to assisting victims of fires, Red Cross workers bring hot coffee and food to firefighters.
“I wouldn’t want to do without them,” the chief said.
RED CROSS CALLS
The number of assistance calls by county Red Cross has responded to this year:
13: Catoosa County
7: Dade County
19: Walker County
30: Whitfield County
Source: Red Cross of Greater Chattanooga, Dalton/Whitfield Red Cross
HOW TO HELP
The Dalton/Whitfield Red Cross can be reached at (706) 278-5144. The Red Cross of Greater Chattanooga can be reached at (423) 265-3455. For more information, visit www.redcross.org.