ST. PAUL — At least 53 people died in fires in Minnesota last year, a 13% increase from 2019 when 47 people died, according to preliminary numbers released Tuesday, Jan. 5, by the Department of Public Safety.

The fire deaths in 2020 were the highest since 2017, when there were 68 deaths in the state.

Smoking was again the leading cause of fatal fires last year, according to state officials, and gas-related explosions were the second leading cause.

The total number of fire deaths will be finalized later this year when hospital officials report their information to the Department of Health.

At least seven people died in smoking-related fires last year, six in gas-related explosions and five in cooking-related fires. The leading cause of all fire deaths over the past five years has been careless smoking.

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Nearly 70% of fire victims in 2020 were older than 50, and 23% had alcohol in their systems. Thirty-six of the fire deaths occurred in a home or workplace, and 22% of the homes or businesses did not have a working smoke alarm.

Minnesota DPS graphic
Minnesota DPS graphic

Tips for preventing a smoking-related fire

  • Smoke outside the home and extinguish cigarettes in a sturdy ashtray filled with water or sand.
  • Avoid smoking while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.
  • Do not discard cigarettes in potted plants, leaves, mulch or other vegetative areas.
  • Do not smoke while on oxygen.

Tips for preventing a cooking fire

  • Do not leave food cooking on the stovetop unattended.
  • Set a timer for any food in the oven and monitor its progress.
  • Keep flammable items like oven mitts, aprons, paper towels and other kitchen aids at least 3 feet from heat sources in the kitchen.

Other prevention tips

  • Keep space heaters 3 feet away from anything flammable.
  • Do not leave space heaters on unattended and turn them off when sleeping.
  • Do not use an extension cord or power strip to plug in a space heater; plug them directly into the wall.
  • Have your furnace and chimney inspected every year.
  • Keep candles 3 feet or more away from anything flammable.
  • Do not leave candles unattended.
  • Use flameless or battery-powered candles in lieu of real candles.
  • Test your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms every month and change the batteries annually.
  • Install smoke alarms in bedrooms and every level of the home.
  • Install carbon monoxide alarms inside or within 10 feet of every sleeping room.
  • Create a family escape plan and practice ways to get out of every room and have an outside meeting place.
  • For those living in a multi-level home, consider using an escape ladder near each window to get to the ground safely in an emergency.