The number of people dying in fires in Minnesota fell to near a record low in 2018 to 37, according to figures released Tuesday by the State Fire Marshal's Office.

The drop came after a particularly deadly 2017 when 68 people died in fires — the most in a year since 1995.

State Fire Marshal Bruce West said it is difficult to pinpoint a reason for the big decrease in fire deaths from 2017 to 2018, but he credits fire departments for getting out into their communities and teaching fire prevention and fire safety.

Last year's fire deaths were the fewest since 2009, according to West's office.

Careless smoking was the leading cause of fatal fires where a cause could be determined. There were no working smoke alarms in 30% of homes where people died. People over 50 accounted for the majority of fire deaths, said Jennifer Longaecker, a spokeswoman for the Fire Marshal's Office.

The state's deadliest year was 1975 when fires killed 134 people. The rate of fire deaths in Minnesota has dropped 63% since the 1970s, but has held steady over the past 20 years, the fire marshal said.

"We must always keep our guard up because a devastating fire can happen to anyone," West said in a statement. "It is common for us to see peaks and valleys with fire deaths, but we all need to continue working together toward the ultimate goal: zero fire deaths in Minnesota."