COLUMBIA -- South Carolina's fire deaths dipped to their lowest level last year since the state began keeping records more than 15 years ago, according to figures released Friday.
Sixty-nine people died in fires last year, down from 93 in 1997. Thirteen of those who died last year were children younger than 10.
The fire marshal's office began keeping records in 1982, and fire deaths reached a peak of 178 in 1989.
Last year's warmer weather helped. "Our fire deaths are down when we don't have the extra heating problems when there's cold weather," state Fire Marshal Lewis Lee said.
Still, 11 of 1998's deaths were caused by improperly used heaters or stoves. The most deaths, 18, resulted from fires caused by smoking.
Greenville County led the state in deaths per county with eight, and most of the deaths were in the state's more urban counties. Twenty counties had no fire deaths at all.
Mr. Lee also credited public education programs by his office and by local fire departments for the reduction in deaths.
"Fire departments, fire service personnel, state agencies and school systems have assisted us in educating our citizens, young and old, about the tragedies of fire," he said.
Cooking-fire deaths dropped to 10 last year from a dozen the year earlier. Mr. Lee said the number of deaths in fires caused by cooking and smoking still concerned him, and the Labor and Licensing Department would launch a media campaign next month to address fire safety in cooking and smoking.
Of the 64 people who died in home fires last year, 25 were in mobile homes. Many of those were built before 1976 when the federal government issued construction guidelines, Mr. Lee said.
The deadliest month was September, with 10 people killed.