Fire deaths trend higher during holidays

Increases in heat use and cooking lead to more deaths in colder months.

Melissa Steinken

With the arrival of the holiday season, state officials are cautioning residents to take additional safety precautions to prevent house fires. 
 
Fire fatalities for this year have already exceeded 2014’s total. 
 
Historically, fires are more common in colder months, and with more people cooking and using open flames or heating indoors, public safety officials and doctors have urged residents to be more cautious. 
 
“People tend to think that fires are usually because of false wiring,” said Bryan Tyner, Minneapolis Fire Department’s assistant chief of administration. “So far this year, most of the fires we have are because of human behavior.”
 
He said most fire fatalities around the holidays are due to the extra amount of cooking.
 
Last year, 44 people died in fires in Minnesota, with 20 of those occurring during colder months, according to a Minnesota Department of Public Safety press release. 
 
So far this year, 46 people have died from fires in the state.
 
Over this year’s Thanksgiving holiday, there was an increase in burn injuries from cooking, said Patricia Campbell, a physician assistant at Hennepin County Medical Center.  
 
“We’ve noticed a decrease in total number of burns, especially big burns, but an increase around the holidays,” she said.
 
Minnesota State Fire Marshal Bruce West said he wants to increase education on fire safety. 
 
Specifically, he said he recommends keeping flammable and combustible items away from heat sources, turning off heat sources when they’re not in use and not leaving stoves unattended, keeping flammable and combustible items away from heat sources.
 
Since 1990, there has been an average of 81 residential fires over the Thanksgiving holiday and 187 between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. 
 
Most fire fatalities occur in single-family homes that don’t have sprinkler systems, Tyner said.
 
“Overall, fires have been going down since 2002, and we’re working on fire prevention efforts to improve that,” he said.
 
Although most University students leave campus during the holiday season, the University of Minnesota’s Housing and Residential Life has safety measures in place in case of a fire emergency.
 
Automatic sprinklers, area-specific fire alarms, smoke detectors and fire extinguishers are located in all University undergraduate housing.
 
For students who live off campus, University of Minnesota Student Legal Services advises student renters to inspect units before they lease them because each building
varies in safety and age, said Mark Karon, director of Student Legal Services.
 
While some units do not have all the possible fire-prevention facilities such as sprinklers, buildings are required to comply with local fire inspection and housing mandates, Karon said.
 
There has not been a significant fire at the University since 2003, when three University students died from smoke inhalation and other causes in a fire.
 
On campus, smoke alarms are regularly tested by Facilities Management, with one fire drill planned each semester.