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Fire officials see uptick in residential fires in 2020, 2021 after 5-year decline

Fire officials say residential fires have become more common during the pandemic with people spending more time at home.

MINNEAPOLIS — The COVID pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives.

Countless people are working from home, and countless children are now learning from home as well.

Fire officials say those two factors have led to a significant increase in residential fires both in Minnesota and nationwide.

"Unfortunately, in 2020 we saw an increase in fires across the state. Many fire departments reported they were busier than any other year,” Minnesota Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Amanda Swenson says.

And 2021 isn’t looking much better.

Swenson says early numbers show 2021 may have been even worse for residential fires.

"It's looking like the trend carried into 2021 as well," Swenson explains.

It’s a concerning trend considering the numbers were actually going the other way before the pandemic started.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, the overall number of fires nationwide had been going down steadily from 2015 to 2019.

During that five-year period the number one cause of fires was cooking.

The U.S. Fire Administration recorded 354,000 residential fires in 2019 (the most recent data set available) and 50.2% of those fires were caused by cooking.

Cooking was the number one cause of fire before the pandemic started and Swenson suspects the numbers were even higher in 2020 and 2021.

“As many of us are in this hybrid mode of working from home, and we’re doing so much more in our homes these days, we can see that result in the increased number of fires,” Swenson says.

So, while furnaces and space heaters get a lot of the attention this time of year, Swenson says Minnesotans should also take great care while cooking.

“A fire extinguisher in the kitchen is a good idea, and a working smoke detector. Also, a good fire tip is to cover your kitchen fires with a pan, because that will easily put it out. With some grease and oil fires the fire extinguisher can spread the fire around the kitchen,” Swenson says.

And when it comes to smoke detectors, Swenson says it’s not good enough to just have them, they need to actually work.

According to the U.S. Administration, in nearly a third of the fires they see, the smoke detectors weren't there, or they weren't working.

That means more than a 100,000 fires every year could have been prevented, or at least wouldn't have been as damaging if there had been working smoke detectors nearby.

"At least once a year, change those batteries, check them. And the detectors themselves, they shouldn't be more than ten years old,” Swenson says.

In the end, it comes down to humans, you can have the best sprinkler system money can buy, all the carbon monoxide and smoke detectors you want, but if they're not properly maintained, it doesn't matter.

When it comes to fire prevention, Swenson says it's on us to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.

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