As temperatures start to dip across Iowa, the American Red Cross urges families to be cautious when using space heaters and other heating sources, and to make a plan in case of a home fire.

Last month, on Nov. 12 and 13, Red Cross volunteers in Iowa assisted 15 families with emergency needs such as lodging, food and new clothing, as a result of six home fires in Johnson, Linn, Worth, Polk, Adams, Wayne and Clarke counties. Two of those responses were to multi-family fires.

Heating sources are the leading cause of winter fires, which increase during the winter months of December, January and February. To reduce the risk of heating-related fires, the Red Cross recommends keeping anything that can burn, such as paper, bedding or furniture, at least three feet away from heating equipment and fireplaces and to never leave these unattended.

"Last year Iowa Region disaster workers responded to more than 420 home fires," said Leslie Schaffer, regional chapter executive of the American Red Cross serving Greater Iowa. "But the good news is that there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of a home fire."

The Red Cross offers the following fire prevention tips:

• All heaters need space. Keep all things that can burn (paper, matches, bedding, furniture, clothing, carpets and rugs) at least three feet away from heating equipment.

• 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.

The Red Cross depends on the generous support of Iowa residents to be ready to respond and help our neighbors who are affected by home fires. You can help your neighbors recover from disasters like home fires by making a tax-deductible donation today. To make a financial donation, please visit, call 1-800-RED-CROSS or mail a check to your local chapter.

For more Red Cross fire safety and preparedness information, visit .