A rural Williamsburg man was killed in a Christmas Eve garage fire, but state officials say the number of fatal fires statewide this year has fallen slightly. Jim Saunders, spokesman for the Iowa Department of Public Safety, says with just a few days left in the year, it’s hoped we’ll finish 2007 without any more deadly blazes.

Saunders says there were 29 or 30 recorded fire deaths in Iowa this year with one pending at the Fire Marshal’s office, which compares to 33 fire deaths in all of 2006. Saunders says Iowa usually sees fire deaths in the upper 20s or lower 30s for the year, but there was an unusual spike of 48 deaths in 2005. He says the number of people who die in fires every year is very sad, considering so many of them were sparked by people not using their heads.

Saunders says: "The real issue with a lot of these fires is, you look at some of the causes. A good number of these were fires that (were) preventable. There were a couple here that were due to just careless discarding of smoking materials. A couple more were caused by external heaters such as kerosene heaters and electric heaters being used next to other combustible items that caused fires."

Saunders says over the past few decades, the number of fire deaths in Iowa has steadily declined. He says people are more aware of the dangers and know to have smoke detectors with fresh batteries in their homes, while technology has helped too, as newer space heaters will shut off automatically if they tip over. Another coming revolution will be in so-called fire-safe cigarettes.

The self-extinguishing cigarettes are reportedly less likely to cause fires if left unattended. A bill signed into law last spring will require them in Iowa starting in January of 2009.