ST. PAUL, Minn. - The scene was a grim one, like most that surround fatal fires, as first responders removed the body of a child from a farmhouse near Marshall December 5, 2013.

The body of a second child was discovered later.

Fortunately, preliminary numbers suggest the number of people killed by fires in Minnesota last year is down 14 percent from 2012.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety State Fire Marshal Division (SFMD).says there were 43 fire fatalities in 2013, compared with 50 in 2012 and 56 in 2011.

"The only acceptable number of fire deaths is zero," State Fire Marshal Bruce West said. "While we are encouraged the number of fatalities is down, we all must work together to make sure every Minnesotan understands how to prevent fires and how to escape them."

The state's all-time low fire-deah figure was 35 in 2009; the high was 134 in 1976.

Figures are preliminary at this time because fatality reports from Minnesota burn centers and hospitals are not yet final, and the state's fire departments are still sending data to the SFMD to be compiled over the next few months.

There were five fire fatalities in the first month of 2014; there were three in January 2013.

To survive house fires you should:

  • Install smoke alarms on every level of your home. Check the alarms often and replace batteries at least once a year.
  • Use flameless candles instead of real ones.
  • Never leave food cooking on the stove unattended.
  • Keep flammable materials at least 18 inches away from any open flame. Watch for commonly used materials like oven mitts, curtains, towels and clothing.
  • Have a safe-escape plan for every building you visit, even your own home.
  • Consider protecting your home or business with fire sprinklers.

The SFMD works to reduce fire deaths with emphasis on education and fire prevention, and by promoting the use of protection systems like smoke alarms and fire sprinkler systems.