DULUTH – 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 year since 2015 with more than 100, according to data the department released this week. One person died as a result of fire in Duluth last year.

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

Medical calls, the single largest category of incidents the Fire Department responds to yearly, decreased by 8% compared with 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."

Local hospitals have been urging patients to keep up with their health care and say their facilities are some of the safest places to be.

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, its highest level in years.

The department hopes to reopen its stations to the public later this year for tours, car seat demonstrations and other events as the pandemic allows.

Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496