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Fire deaths: Bringing down a trend

Jan. 7, 2021

2020 fire deaths infograhic

Whenever you look at statistics on anything, it’s natural to see peaks and valleys. But when those statistics represent deaths, what you want to avoid are upward trends. That’s why the preliminary numbers for 2020 fire deaths in Minnesota are so disturbing: They’re up 13 percent over 2019 fire deaths, which in turn were up 14 percent over 2018.

As usual, smoking is the leading cause of fire deaths in Minnesota, with gas-related explosions in second place. It’s frustrating, because such deaths are entirely preventable. So although we can’t go back in time and bring back to life the 53 Minnesotans who died in fires in 2020, there are so many little things we can do every day to keep ourselves and our loved ones from experiencing the same tragedies.

But let’s take a look at a few more numbers first, so that we can understand the problem. In 2020, 23 percent of the people who died had alcohol in their system. Of the homes or businesses that experienced fatal fires, 22 percent did not have working smoke alarms.

Smoke alarms can save lives, but only if they work. They can give you the time you need to escape, especially considering that fires double in size every 60 seconds. Put a smoke alarm in bedrooms, outside sleeping areas and on every level of your home. Test them monthly and change the batteries at least once a year.

And what about the causes of these deadly fires? What can they teach us? At least seven people died in smoking-related fires in 2020. That number could rise as investigators continue to determine fire causes. To help bring these numbers down in 2021, follow the tips below to prevent a smoking-related fire. If you’re not a smoker, you can help by sharing this information with family and friends who are.

  • 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.
  • Avoid smoking while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Sometimes the worst happens and a fire does ignite, even despite your best fire prevention efforts. That’s why it’s so important to have a family escape plan and practice it twice a year. This information sheet will tell you more about family escape planning.

This upward trend in fire deaths simply has to stop. And although the Minnesota fire service is doing their part to keep Minnesotans safe from deadly fires, they’re counting on you to help too. Together, we can bring the trend down.