Ten Minnesotans have died in fires this month. Earlier this week, six people died in two separate house fires in Hibbing and Lakeville. In total, 63 Minnesotans have died in fire-related deaths in 2017, the most in 15 years.
According to the state fire marshal, this makes December 2017 the deadliest month for fire-related deaths since July 2011.
"I would like to think [the cold weather] has a lot to do with the recent spikes in fires," said Chad Kuhlman with the Rochester Fire Department.
But despite the increase in fire-related fatalities this month, the number of deadly fires has decreased drastically from the 1970s. The state fire marshal reported the highest number of fatalities in 1976 with 134 deaths. That's compared to 35 deaths in 2009 (a 40-year low) and 43 in 2016.
Kuhlman contributes the decrease in deaths to advances of working smoke detectors, public education, and fire prevention as "a general rule rather than having to fight the fire." A working smoke detector can mean the difference between life and death; he recommends checking your smoke alarm once a month and changing the batteries twice a year.
However, the leading cause of fatal fires in the state is careless smoking. In fact, according to the state fire marshal, all four of Rochester's fire-related deaths last year were because of careless smoking.
Residential fires are the most common type of structure fire, making up 77% of all fires in Minnesota and accounting for more than 4,600 fires in 2016. The second most common type of structure fire storage with 483 fires in 2016.
Even though the numbers are down, that does not mean you shouldn't take caution this winter. "The top reasons for fires to occur in homes are smoking fires, cooking fires, and fires that are caused by candles unattended," said Kuhlman. If a fire happens to occur, it will most likely happen late at night or early in the morning, but that's not always the case.
One of the main culprits for starting fires in the wintertime are space heaters. Kuhlman says they should be used with caution, not be placed closer than three feet to any other items, and not be left unattended for long periods of time. One Rochester fire that broke out Tuesday night happened because a homeowner left a portable heater on to try and thaw frozen pipes under their trailer. It ended up causing $25,000 in damage.
Your best bet is to use the space heater for warming yourself and your home, not your pipes. "Call a professional. Call a plumber, and if you're going to use space heaters use them in a way you're attending them."