City in Minnesota sees most fires in a decade in 2020 as more people cooked at home

Brooks Johnson
Star Tribune

DULUTH, Minn. – The city saw the most structure fires in more than a decade last year, and the pandemic may be partly to blame.

"We saw a big uptick in kitchen fires, which we relate to a lot of people being home due to COVID-19," Duluth Fire Chief Shawn Krizaj said in a news release. "It is really easy to walk away from cooking for a distraction, but this is the number one reason why fires get started in the kitchen."

The Duluth Fire Department responded to 141 structure fires last year, the most since 183 were reported in 2009 and the first time since 2015 there were more than 100, according to data the department released this week. One person died as a result of fire in Duluth last year.

FILE-Two Duluth firefighters removed wooden boards and debris from a doorway where smoke was pouring out in the former Paul Robeson Ballroom and Kozy Bar in November 2020. Structure fires increased markedly last year, according to a recent report from the Duluth Fire Department.

Property loss due to fire more than doubled from 2019 to $3.8 million.

Medical calls, which are the single largest category of responses the fire department responds to on a yearly basis, decreased by 8% compared to 2019, though that did not mean there were fewer injuries or sicknesses in 2020.

"In talking with our medical partners, this data is consistent with medical providers' analysis of people avoiding coming in for medical care until it is an emergency," Krizaj said. "We heard firsthand from patients that they did not want to go to the hospital because of the risk of getting COVID-19."

The Duluth Fire Department responded to more than 7,400 "other" incidents — those not related to fires or medical emergencies — pushing the number of responses to 13,853, their highest level in years.