MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Public safety officials say that preliminary data show that in 2018 Minnesota had the lowest number of fire deaths in nearly a decade.

The State Fire Marshal Division announced Thursday that Minnesota saw 36 fire deaths last year. The number was a nearly 50 percent drop from the “particularly deadly” 2017, when 68 people perished in fires.

The last time Minnesota saw fire death numbers as low as this was in 2009, when 35 fire deaths were recorded.

Safety officials say the leading cause of fatal fires in 2018 was careless smoking, which led to the deaths of five people. After that, cooking-related fires resulted in three fatalities and portable heater fires killed two people.

Still, the cause of 20 of last year’s deadly fires remain undetermined.

Although the numbers released Thursday were a sign of improvement, they are not final. Public safety officials say they are subject to change after Minnesota hospitals report to the Minnesota Department of Health in the spring.

As for fatal fires in the first weeks of 2019, there have been two reported deaths. One was in Brainerd, the other was in St. Paul.