Thirty-six people died last year in fires, a 47 percent drop from 2017 when 68 people died, according to preliminary numbers released recently by the Department of Public Safety State Fire Marshal Division (SFMD).

Last year’s drop in fire deaths comes on the heels of a particularly deadly 2017, which saw the most fire deaths in Minnesota since 1995.

Fire death numbers become final once Minnesota hospital officials report their information to the Minnesota Department of Health in the spring.

If last year’s numbers hold, 2018 will be the least deadly year since 2009 when there were 35 fire deaths.

The leading cause of fatal fires last year in Minnesota was careless smoking (five deaths), followed by cooking (three), and portable heaters (two), according to preliminary data. There were 20 deaths in which the fire’s cause is undetermined.

“It truly takes a team effort to reduce the number of fire deaths in our state. Thank you to the firefighters and first responders who work hard and put their lives on the line each day to keep people safe in Minnesota. Thank you to those who live, work, and visit Minnesota who are diligent about fire prevention and safety,” Governor Tim Walz said. “Saving lives and further reducing this number is possible if we all commit to making fire prevention a priority where we live and work.”

Bruce West, state fire marshal, said it is difficult to pinpoint a reason for the decrease in fire deaths. He credits Minnesota fire departments for getting out into their communities and teaching people about fire prevention and fire safety. West also believes Minnesotans are taking seriously their role in keeping themselves safe.

“We must always keep our guard up, because a devastating fire can happen to anyone,” West said. “It is common for us to see peaks and valleys with fire deaths but we all need to continue working together toward the ultimate goal: zero fire deaths in Minnesota.”

West urges the public to make fire prevention in their homes a top priority along with creating a family escape plan and practicing it twice a year.

Fire deaths data

• 2018: 36

• 2017: 68

• 2016: 43

• 2015: 57

• 2014: 44

• 2013: 44

• 2012: 50

• 2011: 56

• 2010: 39

• 2009: 35

Fire prevention tips

Minnesotans can keep themselves and their families safe by following these fire prevention safety tips.

• If you smoke, smoke outside, and extinguish cigarettes in a sturdy ashtray filled with sand or water.

• Do not discard cigarettes in potted plants, leaves, mulch or other vegetation.

• Do not smoke while on oxygen.

• Never leave food cooking on the stove top unattended; stay and look while you cook.

• Keep items like oven mitts, aprons and paper towels at least three feet from heat sources in the kitchen.

• Keep space heaters at least three feet from anything combustible.

• Do not leave space heaters unattended.

• Turn space heaters off when sleeping.

• Plug space heaters directly into the wall, not an extension cord or power strip.

• Have your furnace and chimney inspected annually.

• Keep candles at least three feet from anything that can burn and never leave a candle unattended. Use flameless candles instead of real candles.

• Test your smoke and CO alarms monthly; change the batteries at least once a year. Fire doubles in size every 60 seconds; a smoke alarm can give you the time you need to escape.

• Install smoke alarms in all bedrooms, outside sleeping areas and on every level of the home.

• CO alarms should be installed within 10 feet of each sleeping room or inside each sleeping room.

• Create a family escape plan, and practice it twice a year with everyone in your home. Start by drawing a map of your home that shows two ways out of every room. Make sure those ways out are easy to open (make sure windows aren’t painted shut, for example) and practice using different ones. If you have a multi-level home, consider putting an escape ladder near each window, so you can get to the ground safely in an emergency. Designate a meeting place outside, such as a tree or utility pole.

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