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Despite Law, Fires Started By Cigarettes Still A Problem

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – In the past week, four separate fires have forced people from their homes around the state. Unattended cigarettes are to blame for fires in Mankato, Rochester, Hopkins, and Minneapolis, despite a 2008 law meant to reduce the risk of starting a fire.

At the Arches in Art apartment building in Minneapolis, one unit is now off limits. Paul Gerber, a contractor, and his team were sent in to secure the apartment after an early morning fire on Friday.

“I heard the guy was smoking. I don’t know if he fell asleep or what,” said Gerber.

Fire crews do blame the damage on careless smoking. A cigarette left near a couch caught on fire.

“This is a total gut down. It’s probably $100,000,” said Gerber.

A similar incident damaged a Hopkins apartment building on Monday.

“It was so much smoke, I couldn’t breathe anymore,” said Eliecer Ramirez-Vargas, who helped wake people when he saw the fire in Hopkins.

The built-in buffer to reduce the risk of fires caused by cigarettes didn’t work. Since 2008, cigarettes have been wrapped with extra bands of less porous paper called speed bumps, which will cause the smoke to go out if left unattended.

“The last couple of years, we’ve noticed what I consider a big decrease in the smoking fires about 30 percent,” said State Fire Marshall Jerry Rosendahl.

While the upgraded standards have cut down on the number of calls, State Fire Marshall Jerry Rosendahl said, there’s still a risk. How smokers dispose of their cigarette has a biggest role in fire prevention.

“It takes a little bit of time for that cigarette to still burn before it goes out,” said Rosendahl.

The number of cigarette-related fires has dropped, but the number of fire deaths has not had a big decline. In 2010, there were seven deaths in fires from smoking. In 2011, there have been six.

Fire Marshall Rosendahl said, often time, those fires are linked to drinking and drugs.

He said, in most cases, a person passes out while smoking. The cigarette isn’t put out and then the fire ignites.

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