ANCHORAGE - Fires in Alaska have killed 24 people this year and forced hundreds of people from their homes.
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That's the highest rate of fire deaths in more than a decade.
Of the fire deaths, 21 were in residential structure fires, according to the state Division of Fire and Life Safety.
"This is a bad year all around," said state Fire Marshal Dave Tyler. "Not only have we had a high number of fatalities, but there have been a high number of children involved."
Nearly half of those killed this year were children, with seven of them under the age of 6. Four children died after a kitchen fire trapped them upstairs in a Ketchikan home earlier this month.
The leading cause of death was unattended cooking, followed by children playing with matches or lighters. Tyler said those causes are typically the most common but also the most preventable.
Justin Vera, 18, was the last fire fatality in Anchorage when he became trapped in an upstairs bedroom at his burning home Nov. 4 after making sure his two younger brothers got out. A lit cigarette flaring up inside a plastic can is suspected of causing the fire.
The most recent fire that destroyed an Anchorage home occurred Dec. 20. The blaze started because of someone trying to thaw out frozen pipes with heating tape, Anchorage Fire Department spokesman Tom Kempton said.
The cold also generates an increased demand for heating, and improperly used heaters and stoves consistently make the season the busiest time of year for fires throughout the state, Kempton said.