AUSTIN (KXAN) — Officials for the Central Texas chapter of Red Cross say it needs more volunteers after a string of fires and natural disasters this summer.

Between January and June this year, there were 22 home fires where Red Cross volunteers were called to help, but that number increased significantly in July and August. There were 77 fires in those two months with 55 happening in August alone, according to Red Cross volunteer Richard McAlister.

Last week, Austin experienced an apartment fire on Sam Rayburn that displaced 60 people, including families with small children.

“We used to operate in an environment that we kind of defined as an acute disaster phase,” McAlister explained. “We knew that during the summer we would get hurricanes, and we knew that we were going to get fires, but now we’re moving into a more chronic phase where there doesn’t seem to be a season anymore.”

Volunteer numbers fall short

McAlister said volunteers in Central Texas are not only helping with the increased number of fires in our area. Some volunteers traveled to Maui and Corpus Christi after natural disasters struck both of those areas.

When volunteers come back from helping in these impacted areas, Red Cross will give them a two week rest period before they are helping in the field again. McAlister said some volunteers are choosing to skip that rest period and get back in the field immediately.

“As our volunteer base declines and as we stretch it out, we’re putting those Red Cross volunteers in a position where they’re doing more, where they may have already exhausted
the vacation time they have,” McAlister said.

There simply are not enough volunteers in Central Texas. McAlister said there is a 46% deficit in volunteers in the entire region and a 36% deficit in the Austin area alone. Currently there are 98 volunteers in Austin, and McAlister said Red Cross is hoping to have between 120 to 150 volunteers on standby.

The volunteer situation is even worse in the Hill Country. There are only six volunteers who cover the 18 counties that comprise the Hill Country region, according to McAlister.

“Volunteers are a finite resource and we’re asking them to do more,” McAlister said.

How you can help

The Red Cross is looking for any and all help. That can be either volunteering, donating blood, or donating money.

McAlister said the training to become a volunteer is free and will have you prepared in about two weeks. To learn more about the volunteer opportunities in central Texas you can visit the Red Cross website.