NEW PHILADELPHIA -- The American Red Cross of Muskingum Lakes urges people to practice caution against home fires during this winter season.

"Winter is a prime time for home fires to occur. As people spend more time indoors to escape the cold weather, their use of fire generating tools such as heaters, candles and holiday lights significantly increases the likelihood of experiencing a fire," says Jeannette Meiser, Community Chapter Manager for the Muskingum Lakes chapter.

In the past six weeks the Muskingum Lakes Chapter, comprised of Carroll, Tuscarawas and Harrison Counties, has provided services for six fires and 20 individuals. Three fires took place a matter of five days. In just those instances, the Red Cross provided more than $1,300 in assistance for shelter, food, clothing, seasonal garments and infant supplies. Though the average cost of a home fire is $17,000, one local family suffered more than $25,000 in damages from a fire that started in the kitchen.

All Red Cross disaster assistance is free to those in need because of the generous donations from local community members. Those interested can help neighbors recover from disasters like home fires by making a tax-deductible donation to the Muskingum Lakes Red Cross.

Nationally, nearly 47,000 fires occur during the winter holidays claiming more than 500 lives, causing more than 2,200 injuries, and costing $554 million in property damage. The Red Cross reports that the number of home fires responded to has risen 10 percent since 2000.

People can become vigilant by practicing fire preparedness, such as:

Make sure that light strings and other holiday decorations are in good condition. Do not use anything with frayed electrical cords and always follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Install a smoke alarm near the kitchen, on each level of a home, near sleeping areas including both the inside and outside of bedrooms if the doors are closed when sleeping. Use the test button to check it each month. Replace all batteries at least once a year.

Plan and practice fire escape routes - ideally, two exits from every room.

For information and additional tips, visit www.redcross.org/prepare or call 330-343-8633.

About the American Red Cross

The Northeast Ohio Region of the American Red Cross is comprised of 13 community chapters. Together, we serve 22 counties and their 4.5 million residents by preventing, preparing for and responding to emergencies 24 hours per day, seven days a week.