Minnesota Fire Deaths on the Rise, Mostly Smoking-Related

Duluth Fire Officials share with us why, and how to further prevent one from starting.

DULUTH, Minn.- According to the Minnesota State Fire Marshal, 42 people died in fires statewide in 2019, a 14% increase from 2018, preliminary numbers say.

The leading cause of these fires is smoking, with at least seven people dying in smoking related fires last year.

According to Duluth Fire Department leaders, these fires tend to start outside by people improperly disposing of cigarettes.

“People are starting to smoke outside of their home, so we see a lot of fires that start on the porch or decks,” said Marnie Grondahl, Deputy Chief of Life Safety.

“They’ll put their cigarettes out in potted plants, or they’ll use pop bottles, plastic pop bottles and fill them up with cigarette butts.”

Smokers, Grondahl said, should make sure to use a proper ashtray or something simiar, preferrably a metal container with sand on the bottom. She also added that they should empty those regularly. A build up of cigarette butts becomes easy fuel for fires.

The most recent fatal fire seen in the Northland was last month in Hibbing, which took the life of a 55-year-old man.

He fits the profile of people most often caught in fatal fires, Grondahl said.

“Statistically people are more at risk of dying in fatal fires if over the age of 50 or very young children.”

This is why, she said, the elderly could use a helping hand, to prevent being stuck when flames ignite.

“Next time you’re visiting someone that is older, maybe you can offer to help them,” she said. “Check their smoke alarm, make sure that it’s functioning, make sure that the battery’s good.”

Meanwhile Duluth hasn’t seen a fatal fire since 2016.

The Department credits its fire prevention and fire education programs for helping spread safety messages.

Despite their work, Grondahl said she still sees buildings with dysfunctional smoke alarms, and even some without.

“I can’t stress enough the importance of making sure people have a working smoke alarm,” she said. “It doubles your chance of survival in a fire. It’s so important and sometimes I think people just get complacent, they have one and they don’t check it.”

It’s also important she said, to check that your smoke alarm isn’t more than ten years old, when it needs to be replaced.

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