​​Odds won't keep you safe from a deadly fire

​April 11​, 2024

​​​​​​​A photo of a house fire that killed a 69 year old man in 2023.A 69-year-old man died in this Eden Prairie house fire in June 2023. ​

Charred furniture. Soot. The smell of smoke. Soaked debris.​

Darkness.

In the midst of it all, two firefighters are slowly working their way through the rubble.

They are looking for victims — and they are certain there is at least one.  

They find Ronald first.

“It is an image that is just as clear to me today as it was more than 10 years ago," said Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Amanda Swenson, who is also a volunteer firefighter with the Braham Fire Department.

The firefighters in the small town of 1,700 continue working into the night. They find the second victim, Kathleen, in a different room from her husband.

Swenson and her colleagues, with the help of one of our State Fire Marshal (SFM) division investigators, eventually pieced together what happened. Ronald had stopped to visit a neighbor when somehow he heard his house was on fire. He rushed home and, probably knowing Kathleen was inside, rushed in to save her. Smoke and flames stopped him from ever reaching her side. 

“That event further solidified my desire to prevent fires and make a difference in my community and state," said Swenson, who joined the SFM division less than a year later as a fire and life safety educator.

So far this year, 21 people have died in fires across Minnesota. If that pace continues, we could top 70 fire deaths — the highest in any single year since 1995.

The cause of many of these fatal fires is still under investigation. But we do have some data that help paint a picture of how and where the fires are happening — and who is dying.

  • Careless smoking was a contributing factor in four deaths.
  • 13 of the 21 deaths happened in greater Minnesota.
  • 13 men and 8 women have died.
  • 14 of the victims were over age 60.

There is a name behind each of these numbers. A family shattered by the loss of a loved one.

It's why our SFM division staff work so hard to prevent fires from happening. But they need your help.

How do you prevent a fatal fire — or any fire — from happening in your home? One of the most important things you can do to prevent a fatal fire is avoid smoking under the influence of drugs or alcohol or while on oxygen.

Staying in the kitchen while cooking is also a simple way to prevent a fire.

​While smoke alarms don't prevent fires, they do help you escape. You have about three minutes to get out of your burning home. Without a working smoke alarm, your chances of surviving a house fire are cut in half.

A few other important tips:

  • Have a family escape plan and practice it.
  • Test your smoke alarms monthly.

A fire in August 2022 sticks with State Fire Marshal Dan Krier. His community had beaten the odds, avoiding the average one fire death per year that was common in a town the size of the one in which he worked.

Krier still remembers the victim's name and age. Jerome, age 65.

“Don't assume the odds will keep you or your family safe. A deadly fire can happen to anyone," Krier said. “We have a lot of work to do to lower the number of fire deaths in our state but each person we save matters."​​​​​​​​