Fire deaths are taking a historic plunge in Minnesota this year, down dramatically from 2015.
"We are on record pace for having the lowest number of fire deaths ever in Minnesota, and we surely hope that pace continues," said Minnesota State Fire Marshal Bruce West. "Right now we're at 24, and that's compared to 49 at this time last year."
West spoke as the heating season is poised to start in earnest — often a precipitating factor in deadly fires as residents turn to space heaters, ovens and other potentially dangerous heat sources as the weather grows colder.
West said 2015 was a particularly bad year, when 57 people died in fires in Minnesota. That was a spike from 44 deaths in each of the prior two years. West said a spate of deadly space heater fires contributed to last year's toll.
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But he said another factor may be at play, as well: People 'lighting up' fewer traditional cigarettes.
"The number one cause of fire related deaths continues to be careless smoking. The number one identified cause. So people either quitting smoking or moving to vaping, that could be one of the underlying reductions in this," West said. "That's something that we will definitely take a look at."
West said that fire departments have also been emphasizing fire prevention and repeating warnings about the dangers of heat appliances, including keeping flammable materials away from them and using them safely.
"When you leave the house, leave the room, shut those heaters off," West said. "And we don't want people to use an oven to heat their home. That's not what an oven was designed to do."
An oven was suspected as a possible cause in a fire in Minneapolis that killed three children last October.