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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: The number of fires in the United States has declined over the years, and while that's encouraging, there is still a real cause for concern today. In 2007, eight in 10 people who died in a fire were killed in a home fire.

Practically everyone runs the risk of experiencing a home fire. Most -- if not all -- home fires can be prevented. However, while it may be overwhelming to think about the risk, especially when spending time at home doing routine things like whipping up a meal or relaxing in a warm living room on a brisk fall evening, thinking about the risk and doing something to eliminate it can prevent a home fire from happening in the first place.

This year's Fire Prevention Week public awareness campaign (Oct. 5 to Oct. 11) focuses on preventing home fires and highlights personal actions the public can take to become familiar with fire safety hazards and learn to avoid them. Since 1922, this fire safety observance has brought attention to fire safety issues.

Everyone can eliminate fires with a little extra care. When it's time to prepare a meal or snack, remember that cooking is the leading cause of home fires. Keeping fire safety in mind when cooking, and paying attention to what is on the stovetop or in the oven, can pay off when it comes to reducing the risk of cooking fires.

Most often, these fires start when cooking is left unattended. It's also a good idea to monitor the cooking area to make sure that curtains and other things that can burn are a safe distance away from the stovetop.

Cooking causes the largest number of fires, but more people die in fires involving smoking materials or heating equipment. Taking recommended precautions where they are involved will also help to reduce the risk of people dying in home fires.

Each year, home fires kill approximately 2,500 to 3,000 people, injure another 12,000 to 13,000, and cause between $6 billion and $7 billion in property loss. Don't take the chance of becoming one of these statistics. -- JAMES M. SHANNON, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NATIONAL FIRE PROTECTION ASSOCIATION

DEAR JAMES: Every year we hear tragic reports in the news about lives that are lost because of fires in the home, caused by carelessness or lack of preparedness. That's why it's so important to prepare for a fire even before one occurs.

Start by making sure that smoke alarms are installed in bedrooms and outside each sleeping area on every level of your dwelling. And remember, they should be maintained and tested monthly.

It is also vital to develop and practice a home fire escape plan, which includes identifying two ways to exit every room, and practicing the plan with everyone living in your home -- especially children. Being alerted to a fire and being prepared to escape from it will help residents to act more quickly in an emergency. The time saved because everyone knows exactly what to do could literally be life-saving.

Also, if you can afford it, in addition to having smoke alarms, consider installing residential sprinklers for added protection. To learn more about fire prevention and safety, visit

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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