PORTLAND (AP) – Rising expenses and an increased demand for help from Mainers coping with disaster are creating financial challenges for the state’s chapters of the American Red Cross.

Officials cite a larger than usual number of apartment house fires in which multiple families were displaced. Each family receives, on average, $1,000 to $1,200, putting a strain on Red Cross budgets.

Thus far this year, the American Red Cross of Southern Maine has helped 170 families. The chapter’s chief executive officer, David Thompson, says most were left homeless by fire and some by flood.

Among those thankful for help was Jayme Byther, who found her Limerick home destroyed by fire when she returned from running errands on June 2. Her three children were safe in school and the family dog and cat escaped, but all the family’s possessions were destroyed.

“Your brain just doesn’t function,” Byther said. “You don’t know which way is up and where to even begin.”

The Red Cross was at the fire scene within minutes. John Arsenault, a disaster assistance volunteer, provided the family with $650 for clothes and necessities and $135 for food. He said the agency could pay for a few nights in a hotel and he gave them the name of a mental health worker to help them deal with the psychological impact.

Last year, the Southern Maine chapter spent $84,000 on such direct aid. With higher demand, the chapter is budgeting $110,000 for next year.

In the Bangor area, the Pine Tree chapter of the Red Cross spent its annual budget for disaster relief in just nine months.

The Red Cross also says higher prices for food, fuel and other basic needs mean that direct aid doesn’t go as far as it has in the past.

Byther’s four-bedroom home, which she purchased at a bank foreclosure auction, was insured, but Thompson said that’s a rarity, particularly for renters burned out of an apartment.

“The majority of the people we serve do not have homeowners’ or renters’ insurance. They’re destitute. They have nothing,” he said.

“Sometimes they have friends or family, but just as many times they’re alone and have no place to go and that’s the gap we fill right there.”

Information from: Portland Press Herald, http://www.pressherald.com

AP-ES-06-30-08 0831EDT

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