Scotland has twice as many fire deaths than England and Wales despite running the most expensive fire brigades in Britain, according to the public spending watchdog.
High levels of deprivation, poor housing, high rates of smoking and alcohol abuse, and more rural communities are cited as possible reasons for the disparity by Accounts Commission chairman John Baillie.
The commission also criticised councillors who are reluctant to close under-used fire stations in their electoral wards because they fear a public backlash, even though, it says, resources might be better deployed elsewhere.
Mr Baillie told Holyrood's Audit Committee that the most effective fire services benefit from "economies of scale", where a small number of stations serve a large centralised population.
Audit Scotland portfolio manager Gordon Neill told the committee that rural stations and stations in irregularly-shaped cities such as Dundee are the least cost-effective.
Fire services elsewhere in Britain have also spent more money on prevention in the past, according to Mr Neill. But even the firefighters do not fully understand why the costs and deaths are so high in Scotland, he said.
Mr Baillie said house fires have dropped in number by 23% and casualties have dropped 33% in recent years but the falls have not been as quick as in other parts of the UK.
"Levels of house fires and deaths are almost double those of England and Wales. The factors behind these differences are complex and they include issues associated with deprivation such as poor housing and high levels of smoking and alcohol abuse," he said.
"We also found that five of the Scottish services are amongst the six most expensive in the UK on a cost per head basis, but I would stress that the reasons for this are not fully understood."
Mr Neill added: "The one striking difference between Scotland and England and Wales was specific funding on prevention. That was more highly funded in England and Wales and there is some evidence that that had an impact in reducing fires and deaths in subsequent years."