updated 8/21/2007 11:39:38 PM ET 2007-08-22T03:39:38

The number of fires reported in university and college housing has increased sharply in recent years as students plug in more electrical gear, including microwave ovens, federal officials said Tuesday.

There were 3,300 college housing fires in 2005, up from 1,800 in 1998, according to a report by the National Fire Protection Association. From 2002 to 2005, there were 39 deaths and close to 400 injuries from fires in residences that include dormitories, fraternities, sororities and barracks.

Federal officials said the increase comes as students cram more electrical equipment into their dorm rooms, with microwaves and hot plates responsible for a majority of the fires.

Most of the fatalities, however, were blamed on fires started by smoking or unattended candles.

“By knowing what causes fires ... students will increase their own safety,” said Nancy Nord, acting chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which cited the report on fires in a warning to parents and students.

Campus fires reached 3,200 in 1980 but dropped gradually over the next 19 years as schools took measures such as installing sprinklers in dorms and educating students about fire safety. The recent rise could be partly attributed to fire equipment that can better detect fires that might not have been reported in the past, said Judy Comoletti of the NFPA.

The University of Maryland, which federal officials used as the backdrop for Tuesday’s announcement, has suffered two off-campus fire deaths since 2005. The number of campus fires there has not increased.

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