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State ranks 3rd in fire-related deaths

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Alabama's fire-related deaths were the third highest in the nation during 2006, with 87 residents dying in house fires, but the state hopes to reduce those numbers with a program to install smoke detectors in rural homes and educate families about fire safety.

State Health Officer Dr. Don Williamson said Alabama's fire deaths have been among the five highest in the nation every year since 2001.

"Alabama has made some progress in recent years in educating students and families about fire safety and smoke alarms, but too many people are still dying," Williamson said.

America's worst area for fire fatalities was the nation's capital, with Mississippi second.

To help reduce Alabama's numbers, the state Health Department will install 1,300 smoke detectors in Dallas, Fay-ette, and Pickens counties this year and next as part of the Alabama Smoke Alarm Initiative.

The project has partnered with 23 fire departments in 13 mostly rural counties to install smoke detectors in homes. Williamson said those detectors have saved 61 lives.

The state used a federal grant from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to fund the project. Health officials stressed that every resident should have a fire-escape plan.

State Fire Marshal Ed Paulk said they will use a statewide fire drill Friday to emphasize the importance of an escape plan.

About two-thirds of Americans say they have a plan, but only one-third of them have ever held a fire drill, according to Paulk, who wants residents to have at least two escape routes.

"People seem to overestimate their escape time from a fire," he said. "But in reality, you have as little as two minutes to escape before smoke or flames overwhelm you."

Health Department educator Jamey Durham said the state's most populous county, Jefferson, had the most fire-related deaths, with 24.

Durham cited poverty and many rural homes as a factor in Alabama's fire death rate. In rural areas, there generally are fewer fire hydrants, longer response times and volunteer fire departments not as well-equipped as urban or suburban departments, he said.

"If you have a fire-escape plan, practice it Friday, and install smoke alarms in all sleeping areas," Durham said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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