Colder temperatures means increased chances of home fires


Colder temperatures within the area means that there are increased chances of home fires.

Gehrig Haberstock, disaster program manager with the American Red Cross of Wyoming, said what they see frequently when the weather turns cooler is that heating practices may change. The sources of fires they see are heating related and a common one they see is electrical. 

Haberstock said the Red Cross responds to an average number of above 70 house fires each year across the state. “We see a lot of those during colder weather,” he added.

Big Horn County Fire Warden Brent Godfrey said the sources of fires they come across locally are people not keeping chimneys clean and not keeping space heaters away from combustible items. 

In the wintertime, Godfrey sees more chimney fires. 

However, they have had more structure fires this summer.   

Since Oct. 1, the Disaster Action Teams with the Red Cross have responded to 13 fires across the state. Six fires occurred in Cheyenne, three in Casper, two in Powell, and one each in Buffalo, Lander, Rock River and Torrington.

The next couple of months will be busier for the Red Cross. The Red Cross is a non-profit volunteer organization and Haberstock said they are able to respond because it is a gift from the American public. 

The organization responds by coming to the scene of the fire, connecting with the family and understanding what has happened. Afterwards they determine how they can support the family going forward — be it in the form of financial assistance, lodging support, referrals, or by contacting a nurse, counselor or chaplain. 

Haberstock said they have an immediate response within two hours. They also have a case worker that follows up for a couple of weeks and looks at community case work to get people back to their community they are in. 

There are several tips when it comes to preventing house fires during the colder months. Haberstock said when it comes to space heaters to always follow the
manufacturer’s recommendation. This is usually to not have it within three feet of something that can catch on fire such as furniture, curtains, and dishtowels. This recommendation is also for fireplaces and baseboards.

Godfrey recommends to not overload electrical circuits when running space heaters. He also recommends people clean their chimneys regularly. 

Haberstock also recommends not heating houses with ovens. It is also recommended that large and small appliances be plugged in directly into wall outlets. Matches and lighters should be locked away from children.  

When cooking, Haberstock said to keep eyes on what is being cooked and not turning on the stove and leaving the room. 

The important thing Haberstock stresses is having working smoke alarms. The Red Cross has a program that offers free installation of smoke alarms. Just over a year ago, the program partnered with Big Horn County Fire Dist. 4 to serve the residents in Burlington to provide smoke alarms.   

“We want to make sure everyone has that tool to alert them if they have a fire and knowledge on what to do,” said Haberstock.

Haberstock said COVID-19 has changed the way they do their mission, but has not changed the mission of the Red Cross. 

“All of our volunteers have safety protocols they have when they go on the scene,” he said.

If they cannot do a virtual response, volunteers go and utilize facemasks and social distancing on the scene. 

Haberstock said they are currently reserved on in-home installations of smoke alarms. What this means is they are not actively doing them, but if they know someone has a need they are getting creative on how they can meet that need in a safe matter. The number to contact for the smoke alarm is 307-439-4176.