The beginning of the new year marks the start of fire season, and this year has proved no different. Smith County has worked 45 fires just this month.
"January is the first big cold snap," explains Assistant Fire Marshal Oren Hale. "We have people turning their heating units on, firing up the old fireplace or wood burning stove."
That's just what happened to the Jones family in Flint last week. While trying to stay warm, the couple's wood stove caught fire and destroyed their home.
But the fires are not just happening indoors, grass fires are also up this time of year, according to Hale. Firefighters say parched grounds and heavy winds create the perfect recipe for disaster. And a large scale brush fire can easily overburden volunteer fire units. It took seven fire departments to put out a Monday grass fire in Holly Lake. Such a fire affects every citizen indirectly, says Hale.
"If it takes multiple departments to put out a wild grass fire, you're then taking the safety net for the rest of the county out," he says.
And it's not just firefighters who get exhausted by all the flames. American Red Cross is now coming to the aid of more fire victims. With every fire, their funding takes a hit.
"In terms of fires we've responded to, it's up thirty percent," says Susan Campbell, a spokesperson for American Red Cross Smith County.
Red Cross Smith County has spent $8,000 on fires since Jan.1st. Gregg County has spent more than $5,000. Campbell says that doesn't account for all the families who haven't reported their losses. Many are still unaware the Smith County branch helps fire victims in Wood, Henderson and Cherokee Counties, she says.
And while the drought level hasn't reached a critical level, firefighters hope citizens will take extra precautions. Here are a few tips to keep your home and property safe during the winter season: Never leave an outdoor fire alone, don't burn when windy, keep a hose nearby, get regular maintenance on all indoor heating devices and keep heaters a safe distance from other objects.