Friday, July 21, 2017

Fire deaths rose 36% in Minnesota during the first 6 months of 2017

An increase in Minnesota fire deaths the first half of this year has firefighters concerned.

Fire deaths rose 36 percent in Minnesota during the first 6 months of 2017, according to State Fire Marshal Bruce West. There have been 30 deaths so far this year, outpacing the average from the first half of the previous five years, 26.8 deaths.

Though the preliminary data doesn’t show a leading cause, West said most fatal fires are caused by human behavior.

“We just want people to be aware of what they’re doing, to be aware of the increase, and to show a little extra care,” West said.

Typically, careless smoking causes the most fatal fires in Minnesota. While smoking this year so far has only been identified as the cause of one fatal fire, most of the cases remain under investigation. Other causes include an unattended portable heater, cooking grease, suicide and careless open burning. Three of the fires — 10 percent — were from gas leaks.

“There’s no real trend (in the overall numbers),” West said. “We see peaks and valleys. One year we have a reduction, the next year we might have a peak. Careless smoking continues to be the number one cause overall.” Flowers are placed in the fence in front of a four-plex at 1035 Arkwright Street in St. Paul in January. A fatal fire at the building Wednesday killed Tiffany Alexander, 27. Relatives said her 2-year-old son William, severely injured in the fire, had also died. (Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press)

Fires are consistently more common in the winter time, particularly in the holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. This year, all but four took place before May. The most recent fatal fire, a house fire in Maplewood, was the only fire death in June.

The data is too preliminary to determine if the total number of fires in Minnesota has changed this year.

The average age of the victim was 60 years old. Fire fatalities have occurred all over the state, including three in Minneapolis, two in St. Paul, and one each in Brooklyn Park, Maplewood, Mound, Roseville and Wayzata.