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Cigarettes fueling rise in Minnesota's preventable fire deaths

FORESTON, Minn. — Drought conditions around the Twin Cities metro have substantially increased the risk of fires, a problem Minnesota’s struggling with this year.

Cigarette-related fires, specifically, are on pace to be more deadly any year on average in the last decade.

Ralph Swarm died from his injuries in a barn fire in Foreston in May. His family says it was a cigarette ember that started it.

Rick Scharber, Swarm’s brother-in-law, is now in physical therapy after overcoming renal failure following the fire and nine surgeries.

“My heart aches for every single one of these people that have suffered a loss of a family member due to something that was preventable,” said State Fire Marshal Jim Smith.

Smith says there have been an average of eight or nine cigarette-related fire deaths a year over the last decade. There have already been seven this year.

“I personally believe that it’s complacency,” Smith said. “I was a smoker for many, many years … but the cigarette just became another part of your body. You don’t really take into account what’s happening with the ash.”

In total, there have been 25 fire fatalities this year in Minnesota. At this time last year, there were 19.  



On his Fish Lake Campground in Prior Lake, William Busacker has rules about personal fires as well as designated smoking areas, but the severe drought only enhances the risk.

“There’s still a lot of dead grass in the area, that’s definitely something you know to keep an eye out for,” Busacker said.

Sprinklers run on the campground to keep the ground from drying out, but Busacker says they mostly depend on the common sense of the people staying there.

“We can kind of feel the level of respect that some of these folks have,” he said.

Smith says in a drought, it’s best to avoid any outside burning. There are no restrictions in place right now, but you do need a permit for burning brush or yard waste.

Ashes and embers can carry much further than you might realize.

Source: CBS Minnesota

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