2009 state fire deaths lowest number everby Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesota had fewer fire deaths in 2009 than any other year on record, state fire officials said Wednesday.
According to a preliminary count, Minnesota recorded 32 deaths in 2009, which is a 20 percent drop from the previous record low of 40 in 2007.
Although the 2009 tally might rise as hospitals submit fatality reports, officials at the State Fire Marshal Division said one reason for the record low number is the declining number of smokers.
"Careless smoking is typically the largest cause of fire fatalities," said Becki White, a deputy state fire marshal and state fire safety educator.
White said other factors that helped push down the number are stricter building codes and public education.
Preliminary data show 15 of the deaths occurred in places where smoke alarms were missing or not operating, or where fire officials couldn't determine the presence or condition of the smoke alarms. No deaths happened where working smoke alarms were present, officials said.
The record-low fire death numbers came the same week the state Department of Public Safety announced that preliminary numbers show Minnesota had the lowest number of traffic deaths since 1944.
White said both sets of numbers show the public has become more aware of how to prevent tragedies, and she credited the state's public education campaigns for helping get the job done.
"It's great to see the statistics showing and proving that what we're doing is really working," White said.
(MPR's Tim Nelson contributed to this report.)