If you’re awakened by the shrill screech of a fire alarm and your obvious way out is blocked by flames or smoke, Iowans are urged to practice now for alternative escape routes. As part of Fire Prevention Week, Jessica Lown, spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Public Safety, says the emphasis this year is on having two ways out.

“We really want to make sure all families out there know how to quickly escape their home in the event of a fire from two different routes or two different paths,” Lown says. “If you need to climb out a window, know how to do that and practice how to do that, as well as escaping out your bedroom door, down the stairs and quickly out the front door.”

Families need to arrange for a meeting place ahead of time, in case of this sort of emergency. “Once you escape a fire, you need to have a place for family to coordinate at one particular, previously-identified location,” Lown says.

“That will help give your family piece of mind. If you all meet at the mailbox or the neighbor’s tree across the yard, once everybody’s out, mom and dad can do a head count and make sure that everybody’s safe.” Nationwide last year, fires were reported every 23 seconds, blazes that resulted in more than 2,600 deaths and nearly $7-billion in damage.

So far in 2012, Iowa has seen about 20 fire deaths. Lown says 20 is still far too many, but that is an improvement from recent years. There were 39 fire deaths statewide last year and 46 deaths in 2009.

Unfortunately, some of the most dangerous weeks and months are just ahead. “Halloween, there’s candles in pumpkins, Thanksgiving, we’re lighting our candles for the dinner table and all of those holiday decorations surrounding Christmas,” Lown says.

“As inviting as they can be, they are fire hazards. We want to be sure people are paying attention and keeping their homes safe through the holiday season so that fire fatality number doesn’t increase.” Many Iowa fire departments will host activities this week to promote fire prevention.

Learn more at: www.firepreventionweek.org.