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TUPELO, MIss. (WCBI) — In 2011, more than 2,500 people lost their lives in house fires across the nation.

Experts believe many of those deaths could have been prevented. Jason Cross is a fire marshal with the Tupelo Fire Department, and says there are some basic, simple steps people can take to help prevent tragedy.

“If it’s been awhile since your heaters have been opened, we highly suggest getting it professionally serviced to make sure everything is clean and clear and operating properly,” Cross said.

He says that can also reduce the risk of carbon monixide poisoning. Another key safety tip — check those smoke detectors to make sure they’re operating properly and if not, change the batteries.

The veteran firefighter also has a warning about space heaters.

“You should always keep your eye on them at all times and never have anything flammable or combustible stored near them. They draw a great deal of current and if at all possible, you should never use those on an extension cord,” Cross pointed out.

And if the unthinkable happens, Cross says an exit plan is vital.

“We should always know, not only in our home, or wherever we are, we should know more than one way out of a building , and we should practice those especially at home, to have simple things like a common meeting area,” he stressed.

In fact, the theme of this year’s Fire Safety Week is “Have Two Ways Out” stressing the importance of planning and practicing a fire escape plan and having not just one, but two escape routes. That is one of the messages firefighters will be taking to schools, churches and civic groups this month throughout the area as part of a proactive approach that is not only educational but could be life saving.

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