One of the most common causes of deaths in home fires is careless smoking.

One of the most common causes of deaths in home fires is careless smoking.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, improper handling of items such as cigarettes, cigars and pipes is the leading cause of fire deaths and the third leading cause of fire injuries in the United States.

According to the NFPA, between 700 and 900 people die per year in the U.S. as a result of fires caused by cigarettes.

One quarter of those killed are often children and the elderly who are not the smokers.

To avoid a fire caused by smoking-related materials, follow these essential safety precautions.

* Provide large, deep ashtrays for smokers and do not place them on the arms of furniture.

* Keep smoking materials away from anything that can burn, such as mattress bedding, upholstered furniture, floor covering and trash. Most cigarette fires involve dropping a hot cigarette on these materials. A lighted cigarette can smolder for 20-30 minutes before igniting anything combustible.

* Whenever someone has been smoking in the residence, always check on and under upholstery and cushions and inside trash cans for butts that might be smoldering.

* Never smoke in bed or when you are drowsy, intoxicated, or medicated.

* Completely douse cigarette butts and ashes with water before throwing them away as they can smolder in the trash and cause a fire.

* Keep matches and lighters out of children's reach.

* If you smoke, choose fire-safe cigarettes. These cigarettes have a special banded paper that is designed to self-extinguish if dropped or left unattended, making them less likely to ignite clothing, bedding, or other material.

Washington Township Fire Department Fire Marshal Alan Perkins submitted the Smoke Signals column.