Inquirer staff writer Andrew Maykuth reports:

According to the Philadelphia Fire Marshal's Office, the seven dead from last night's tragedy increased the total number of fire deaths to 37 for the year, compared to 47 by this date last year.

In recent decades, fire fatalities have been generally trending downward, according to the marshal's office. Because one bad fire can throw off the annual average, fire officials prefer to look at 10-year moving average of annual fire deaths. That number has declined by nearly half since 1992, according to the marshal's office.

According to a 2005 analysis posted on the fire department's Web site, 45 people died in Philadelphia in 34 fires in 2004. The year before, 44 died.

"In 1992 the ten-year average was 87 fire deaths per year, in 1998 it was 74, in 2002 it was 58 and now the ten-year average for 2003 has been reduced to 54," John J. Devlin, Deputy Chief, reported in a memo to Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers three years ago. "The decreasing fire death trends are clear and are a better measure of our effectiveness."

Fire officials attribute the decline in fatalities improved fire prevention strategies and milder winter weather, allowing residential occupants to avoid using risky home-heating methods.

Contact Inquirer staff writer Andrew Maykuth at  215-854-2947 or amaykuth@phillynews.com

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