Stephen McCausland of the Maine Public Safety Department says a fiery car crash on Dec. 29 that claimed the life of a motorist in Standish lifted the number of fire deaths to 12, a level reached only once before in 1991.
The figure might have been higher but the medical examiner ruled that two people killed in another fiery crash on Dec. 26 died from the impact, not the ensuing fire.
The number of fire deaths continues to improve. Nearly 50 people a year died on average in fires in Maine in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The average dropped to 32 in the 1980s and 20 in the 1990s.
The average this decade is 18 fire deaths a year.
Officials say the improvement reflects stronger building codes, fire prevention efforts and the widespread use of smoke detectors.