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Rash of fires has fire officials pushing safety awareness

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Department of Public Safety State Fire Marshal Division is using a week which typically sees an increase in fires to issue a warning to Minnesotans to be extra careful.

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Department of Public Safety State Fire Marshal Division is using a week which typically sees an increase in fires to issue a warning to Minnesotans to be extra careful.

Locally, Kandiyohi Fire Chief Dwight Ryks is echoing those concerns.

Ryks warns that with challenging economic times, he's afraid folks will use inappropriate methods in attempts to heat their homes.

"When the economy is bad, people use alternative fuels," he said Wednesday.

Examples include starting to burn wood, even if they don't know how to tend a wood stove and have a bad chimney that hasn't been used in years or using the kitchen stove to try and heat the house because the propane tank is empty.

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Last year, Ryks and other Kandiyohi firefighters were called to a fire at a trailer home where the residents were using a propane burner, like those used to heat fish houses, inside the home. The burner came in contact with blankets and resulted in a house fire.

In a typical year, there are one or two house fires in the area during the holiday season, possibly because of unattended candles, cooking fires and portable heaters.

"It's the worst time of the year to lose a house," he said.

That's what has happened recently in the Twin Cities, where two residential fires and one commercial fire has the state fire marshal division concerned. Cooking, candles, decorations and fireplaces are the main culprits of residential fires, said Becki White, deputy state fire marshal.

No one was killed in the recent fires and White said Minnesota remains on pace to report the fewest fire deaths on record. There have been 32 deaths reported so far in 2009, compared with 52 at this time last year. The fewest deaths recorded were in 2007, when 40 people lost their lives in fire-related incidents.

"We want everyone to enjoy the holidays, so we're simply reminding people to take extra precautions," White said in a press release. "Unfortunately, fires are common this time of the year. We don't want the New Year to start out tragically for any family in Minnesota."

Typically, there are more fires between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day than any other week of the year. Last year, there were 205 fires in Minnesota during the week between Christmas and New Year's Day -- that's 50 percent more fires than a typical week.

Nearly 3,800 fires have occurred during the last week of the year since 1989.

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The West Central Tribune in Willmar, Minn., and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

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