Fire deaths rose in Minnesota last year, in part because of a November fire that killed five people at a public housing high-rise in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis.

The Minnesota State Fire Marshal Division tallied 42 fire deaths in 2019, up from 37 the year before. Two-thirds of the victims were age 50 or older.

The number of fire deaths has fluctuated greatly in recent years: 2018 was one of the least deadly of the decade, while 2017 logged a high of 68.

The statistics for 2019 are preliminary and could rise once hospitals report their information to the Minnesota Department of Health, said Jen Longaecker, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety.

The preliminary total includes five people who died of smoke inhalation after a fire at the Cedar High Apartments in Minneapolis just before Thanksgiving. City fire investigators were not able to pinpoint the cause of that blaze but said an electrical short circuit, a baseboard heater and smoking or "use of smoking materials" contributed to it.

The victims in that fire were Amatalah Adam, 78; Maryan Mohamud, 69; Nadifa Mohamud, 67; Jerome Stuart, 59, and Tyler Scott Baron, 32.

Investigators in the other fires determined that at least seven of the deaths were a result of smoking-related causes.

"That number could rise as investigators continue determining fire causes," the fire marshal's office said in a news release.

Data from the past 10 years show that smoking and drinking can be a deadly combination. From 2009 to 2019, 94 people died in smoking-related fires and a significant portion also had a blood alcohol content of more than 0.08%, the state's legal limit for driving, the release said.

"There are many little things we can do to prevent a devastating fire from happening in our homes," Fire Marshal Jim Smith said. "It is important to practice fire prevention and safety every day."

The fire marshal's safety tips include keeping candles at least 3 feet from anything that can burn and never leaving one unattended, and keeping space heaters away from combustible objects and not plugging them into extension cords or power strips. In the kitchen, it's important to keep oven mitts, aprons and paper towels away from heat sources and never leave food cooking on the stovetop unattended.

Smith also said families should have an escape plan and practice it twice a year and test smoke and carbon monoxide alarms monthly. Batteries should be changed at least yearly, he said.

There were no working smoke alarms in 12% of the fatal home fires last year, the office said.

In the wake of several fatal fires and the Christmas Day fire at the Francis Drake Hotel — a blaze that caused no deaths but left about 200 people homeless — some activists have begun pushing for legislation that would require greater safety systems in old buildings.

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768

Liz Navratil • 612-673-4994