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Staying safe requires special care during bitterly cold weather
People who live in our region pride themselves in being hardy souls, unlike their cousins in warmer climes who shiver the first time they experience temperatures in the 50s.
But we're not immune to ignoring home or vehicle maintenance until it's too late and sub-zero weather exposes our shortcomings.
At best, we may be begging a ride from a friend because our car won't start, or making an emergency call to a repairman when our furnace goes out.
At worst, we may find ourselves and our families in actual danger, stranded on an isolated road on a cold, bitter night or awakened by the screech of a smoke alarm or carbon monoxide detector.
Since Friday night, the the American Red Cross in Nebraska and southwest Iowa has responded to a total of 17 devastating house fires, affecting several dozen people living in Central City, Wood River, Beemer, Overton, Lexington, Grand Island, Hickman, Talmage and Kearney, Nebraska, Pisgah and Council Bluffs, Iowa.
The Red Cross urges families to be extra careful when using space heaters and other heating sources, and make a plan in case of a home fire.
Space heaters, fireplaces and wood or coal stoves pose a special hazard over the winter months, and anything that can burn, such as paper, bedding or furniture, should be kept at least three feet away from heating equipment and fireplaces and to never leave these unattended.
* Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended, and use a glass or metal fire screen to keep fire and embers in the fireplace.
* Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home.
* Turn off portable space heaters every time you leave the room or go to sleep.
* Have wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, and chimneys inspected annually by a professional, and cleaned if necessary.
* If you must use a space heater, place it on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as ceramic tile floor), not on rugs, or carpets or near bedding or drapes. Plug power cords directly into outlets and never into an extension cord.
You can help your friends and neighbors deal with floods, tornadoes, fires and hurricanes by making a donation to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Visit redcross.org or call 1-800-REDCROSS (1-800-733-2767), or mail a donation to your local American Red Cross chapter, or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington DC 20013.