The Red Cross in South Carolina has been busier than many chapters nearby, dealing with what they say are preventable disasters.
South Carolina’s numbers for fires are dramatically higher than other states up the East Coast. In the region that consists of 35 counties outside the Upstate, there were 719 fires to date this year, the Red Cross said. Last year by Christmas, there were 743.
Mike Powers, regional disaster and programs officer for Palmetto S.C. Region of the Red Cross, said South Carolina in recent years has almost doubled the other regions going up the East Coast, includes the Washington, DC-area, Philadelphia and New York.
The Palmetto SC region does not include most of the Upstate, which is considered part of another region that includes North Carolina and Tennessee.
It does include more sparsely populated rural areas, like Orangeburg, which has now had 243 fires this year. The most recent came Monday, when the organization said it had responded to a fire at a multistory apartment complex fire that had displaced seven adults.
That has kept the region’s 100 rapid response volunteers extremely busy, not including the teams that help with long-term recovery.
However, Powers said these numbers mean there needs to be more focus on preparation, especially with 14 deaths so far. In the past week along, there was a series of fire deaths involving children.
On Wednesday, two children died after an electrical failure caused a Christmas tree to catch fire in an Irmo apartment. Three days later, investigators said an eight-year-old playing with matches started an Aiken fire that killed a second child and the victim’s grandmother.
“We are trying to figure this out,” Powers told South Carolina Radio Network.”I think the answer is going to be education, but what I want to be able to do is to get the word out, knowing what those actual causes are. I don’t want to speculate, I want to be as firm in our understanding as we possibly can be.”
The causes include accidents with electric heaters, dryer vents, cooking, bathroom fans and a child playing with matches. In the case of the blaze that swept Georgetown’s historic retail district, investigators say they may never know the cause.
The cases continue, said Powers.
“Just this last weekend, as an example, we had 11 single-family fires, one multi-family fires with two fatalities, impacting 50 families, ” Powers said.
With 13 Red Cross staffers across the region, the bulk of the response is up to its trained volunteers who go on location helping with food, shelter and then find community groups who can provide clothes and continued meals.
Red Cross leaders are researching and developing a plan to coordinate with more regional groups in dealing with fire preparation and response.
“The assistance we can provide is really just a bridge to recovery,” Powers said. “It really takes a whole community to bounce back from a disaster that can destroy everything that they have.”