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Fires may be put out before they light up

Call analysis sets Red Cross on proactive path in ZIP code 97211
by:  L.E. BASKOW, Red Cross workers gather last week at Humboldt Elementary School to fan out and knock on some 1,600 doors in the neighborhood and talk about fire and disaster prevention.

For the first time, Portland-area Red Cross officials mapped out the numbers. And the numbers were stark. From July 2005 through June 2007, the Portland-area chapter of the American Red Cross had been called to a Northwest Portland ZIP code — to help people who suffered devastating house and apartment fires — more often than any other ZIP code in Multnomah County and six surrounding counties. The number of responses to the ZIP code — 97211 — was four the average for a ZIP code in the seven counties. The counties are Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Yamhill, Columbia, Clatsop and Tillamook. So late last week, for the first time, Red Cross staff and volunteers directly responded to those numbers. Dozens of staffers and volunteers dispersed throughout the Humboldt neighborhood, within ZIP code 97211, to knock on doors, talk to residents and distribute information on fire and disaster prevention. More than 60 people distributed information last Friday; more than 50 did last Saturday. In total, they knocked on 1,600 doors, said Linda Swift, emergency preparedness manager for Portland’s Oregon Trail chapter of the American Red Cross. “We’re looking at being not only reactive,” Swift said. “Our focus now is to get to people before — to prevent and prepare for disasters before they occur.” But the Red Cross numbers for 97211 don’t appear to be totally a reflection of the number of fires in the area. Portland Fire Bureau statistics — while not tracked in exactly the same way — do not show a disproportionately large number of fires in the zip code. Fire bureau officials, and Red Cross officials, say the Red Cross numbers may reflect the fact that people in the area, which has significant pockets of poverty, more often need Red Cross help when they suffer devastating fires. Lt. Allen Oswalt, a spokesman for the fire bureau, said fire officials ask people who are displaced from homes or apartments whether they have a place to stay, or whether they would like fire officials to call the Red Cross for help. The Red Cross numbers also reflect those calls for help. Lise Harwin, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross, said that of seven recent 97211 fires for which the Red Cross has responded, six of the homeowners had no fire insurance. Rodney Rogers, a disaster operations specialist for the Oregon Trail Red Cross chapter, said that when he answered calls for disaster assistance in the area, “what I noticed was the majority of people we assisted did not have the immediate means to find a hotel room, to just kind of pick up immediately. They weren’t as well off as a lot of the community.” Red Cross officials said they hope spreading prevention information like they did last week might help avoid future fires. They also said they plan to do future awareness projects every three months — next in a high-response neighborhood in Southeast Portland and then in a neighborhood in Hillsboro. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.