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Fourth victim dies after Hibbing fire; authorities recount retired firefighter's attempt to save wife, grandsons

Todd Jacob Gillitzer Jr., 9, of Benson, Minn., has died as a result of a house fire in Hibbing, Minn.., on Dec. 26, 2017. Submitted photo1 / 2
Hibbing Fire Marshal Bryan Fagerstrom (from left), Hibbing Fire Department Capt. Tony Sikich and state fire marshal investigator James Iammatteo confer outside the house where an early Tuesday morning fire fatally injured three people. Steve Kuchera / Forum News Service2 / 2

With the Hibbing deaths, six people have been killed in Minnesota fires since Christmas Day, bringing the number of such deaths this year to 63, the most in nearly 15 years.

And with 10 fire-related fatalities so far, this December has matched July 2011 as the deadliest single month in recent years.

The deaths this week were all residential fires in Hibbing, Lakeville and Marshall.

In Lakeville, a house fire killed a man early Tuesday morning.

Fire Chief Mike Meyer said a homeowner called 911 at 2:56 a.m. to report smoke in the single-family home at 18690 Jasmine Way.

Two people made it out of the home but a third died inside. The victim is Jon White, according to a web page soliciting funds to pay for his funeral and other expenses.

In Marshall, one person died in a house fire on Monday, Christmas Day.

According to the Marshall Independent, the victim, who hasn't been identified, is believed to be the homeowner.

The fires in Hibbing, Lakeville and Marshall all remain under investigation.

An average of 50 people have died in Minnesota fires each year since 2012.

Last year at this time, there were 42 fire deaths. In 2015, there were 57 deaths, the highest number since 2002 when there were 64. The state’s all-time low figure was 35 in 2009 and the highest was 134 in 1976.

Just last week, going into the Christmas holiday, the state fire marshal's office warned about a 30 percent increase in fire deaths this year compared with 2016.

Since 2012, March has seen the most fire deaths in the state, followed by December.

The three leading causes of residential fires in Minnesota are all holiday staples: cooking, heating and open flames, although the leading cause of fatal fires in the state is careless smoking.

The early morning hours have proved most deadly time for residential fires.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press contributed to this report.

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