519 people affected by spate of January home fires

During busy winter season, Red Cross shares preparedness reminders and resources

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Winter has brought a sustained escalation of home fires in Wisconsin and the U.P. of Michigan, with more than 500 people displaced in January alone, including at large apartment fires in Beaver Dam, Menasha and Milwaukee.

An apartment building in Milwaukee affected by a tragic fire in January 2021.

The American Red Cross has assisted approximately 519 people at 68 fires, which registers as more than two-per day and ranks on par with some of the busier months in recent years. That includes a fatal fire at a 106-unit building in the Burnham Park neighborhood in Milwaukee, one of the largest residential fires we’ve assisted with in recent years, as well as other apartment fires in Menasha (43 people), Beaver Dam (35 people) and elsewhere in Milwaukee (17 people). Separately, Racine has suffered four, single-family home fires in January, affecting 19 people, and Iron Mountain, Mich. has had two single-family home fires, affecting 10 people.

“While we prepare for an unfortunate rise in fires each winter, our teams have helped people through a particularly dense number of larger incidents, such as the three big apartment fires alone on January 28th,” said Mark Thomas, Regional CEO and Southeast Executive Director, American Red Cross. “With these incidents still looming large, we’re encouraging people to take a moment and review their preparedness plans with their families, as well as to consider ways to join our mission.”

Examples of relief support by Red Cross disaster teams at these fires includes aid for temporary lodging at a local hotel, meals, and access to health and mental health resources. Volunteers and staff also work with residents on recovery plans to move forward during the protracted aspects of a home fire, like identifying longer term housing. This work is amplified by partners in service at communities across our Region.

The winter season typically brings an increase in residential fires, though our teams have been involved in a higher than usual number of large-scale fires going back to the start of the pandemic. Since March 2020, Red Cross disaster volunteers and staff have been committed to internal and CDC protocols to ensure health and safety measures for everyone involved in our mission.

Home fire safety tips & resources

American Red Cross disaster volunteers Denise Bruneau, left, and Ranjit Verma collect more than 100 chicken wrap meals from our partner Alverno College for distribution to people at temporary sheltering after home fires.

The Red Cross is asking everyone to take simple steps to reduce the risk of a fire in your home and to help save lives:

  • Make sure everyone in the family knows how to get out of every room and how to get out of the home in two minutes or less.
  • Test the smoke alarms in your home and replace deficient batteries or alarms. Teach children the sound of a smoke alarm when you practice your home fire escape plan.
  • Select a meeting spot at a safe distance away from your home, such as a neighbor’s home or a tree in the front yard, so everyone knows where to meet.
  • Bring home fire and disaster safety lessons into your school or organization. Click here to sign up for these free virtual preparedness courses.
  • For additional free resources and safety tips, visit redcross.org/homefires.  

You can support this ongoing mission for our neighbors in need by joining as a volunteer or by making a donation at redcross.org.