NEW BRIGHTON, Minn. (WCCO) – Last year was less than two weeks old when tragedy struck at a Mound apartment building. That’s where fire claimed the first of 68 people in Minnesota last year.

“It’s a huge increase from the 44 fatalities in 2016,” said State Fire Marshal Bruce West.

The department’s annual report, 2017 Fire in Minnesota, was recently released by West’s office. It contains data reflecting the past year’s 13,456 fires that damaged homes, businesses and vehicles.

The deadliest months were December (11) and April (10). Of the 68 fatalities, 17 of them happened despite the structure having working smoke alarms.

“You don’t have enough time like 20 or 30 years ago. Homes burn quicker, hotter, faster. Once that alarm goes off, need to get out immediately,” West said.

But as troubling as the spike in fatal fires is, there’s something equally as alarming: The number of victims over age 60 more than doubled.

Why older residents were more likely fire victims is unclear. But it’s a concern for fire safety experts as the population ages.

“One of the things when it comes to the senior community is space heaters,” said West.

Cooking caused nearly half of all fires, (45.5 percent) followed by heating systems (10 percent) and electrical malfunctions (7.9 percent). In relation to fire fatalities, careless smoking is by far the leading cause.

Fire safety efforts have for years targeted school children. Fire prevention week each October aims to educate young people about keeping their homes safe, and the importance of smoke alarms and escape plans.

With the increasing numbers of older fire victims, chief deputy Jim Smith says the agency will focus education programs on them as well.

“We need to find those keys to reach those people so we can lower those deaths,” Smith said.

Because reducing the tragic cost of fire only happens with a full understanding of the data.

You can read the full report at the Department of Public Safety’s website.

Bill Hudson