Foreclosure filings plummeted 25% from year earlier levels in February even as filings edged up 2% from the previous month, RealtyTrac said Thursday. 

The Irvine, Calif.-based research firm counts default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions as foreclosure filings when compiling its monthly report.

In February, 154,281 properties faced some type of foreclosure notice, suggesting one out of every 849 U.S. housing units is in some state of distress.

"At a high level the U.S. foreclosure inferno has been effectively contained and should be reduced to a slow burn in the next two years," said Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac.

Blomquist notes that dangerous foreclosure flare-ups are still popping up in states where foreclosures have been delayed by lengthy court processes or by new legislation that makes it more difficult to conduct nonjudicial foreclosures.

"Foreclosure starts have been steadily building in those states over the last several months and likely will end up as bank repossessions or short sales later this year," said Blomquist.

Foreclosure starts jumped 10% from January after falling for three consecutive months. Thirty-two states saw foreclosure starts rise from the previous month, while 16 states saw increases from a year ago. 

"These new foreclosure hot spots include states like Washington, where seven straight months of rising foreclosure activity pushed the state’s foreclosure rate to fifth highest nationwide —the highest it’s ever been in our report — and Maryland, where eight straight months of rising foreclosure activity placed the state’s foreclosure rate among the top 10 nationwide for the first time since July 2010," Blomquist noted.

For the sixth consecutive month, Florida posted the nation’s highest state foreclosure rate, with one in every 282 properties facing a foreclosure filing in February. A total of 31,726 Florida properties had been filed, up 20% from the year before. This represents a 16-month high.

Seven of the nation’s 10 highest metro foreclosure rates were Florida metros. The list includes Miami, Orlando, Ocala, Tampa and Palm Bay, all of which filled the top five spots.

mhopkins@housingwire.com