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Counties getting record-setting requests for heating assistance

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Richard Kremer, Wisconsin Public Radio

Counties say they're getting record numbers of calls from people seeking emergency heating assistance.

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Judy Demers directs Barron County's Health and Human Services Department. She says they normally get five to 10 calls a day for heating assistance, but the need is far greater this winter.

“We've been getting 70 to 80 calls a day over the past ... week and a half,” she said.

The great majority of calls are coming from propane customers who can't afford to fill their tanks or are having trouble finding a supplier. Demers says she's heard of propane prices this week hitting $7 per gallon in the county. Propane, though, isn't the only fuel that's getting hard to come by.

“There's a big demand for wood right now, too, because of the propane shortage,” Demers said. “What we are hearing is that the supply of seasoned wood — the dry wood, which is the safest — is getting depleted as well.”

Demers says that means some people may be burning green wood, which causes buildup and can cause chimney fires. Also, she worries that some people are using propane or kerosene space heaters indoors. “People will take desperate measures to stay warm,” she said. “You can't live very long in this kind of weather and not have some source of heat.”

Burnett County Health and Human Services Director Kate Peterson says they're getting 10 times the calls they normally would. But she says, there are many more who don't qualify for help. “If they're not eligible, these are the people that aren't getting any assistance.”

Department of Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis says they've gotten 6,000 calls for heating assistance since the end of January, and emergency funding for the Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program has been increased twice.

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