PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The number of homicides in Maine reached 31 in 2008, the highest number since 1989, when 40 people were killed in the deadliest year in Maine history. The number of fire deaths, meanwhile, was lower than average.

Of the 2008 homicides, 19 were domestic related, or roughly two-thirds of the killings, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety. Normally, about half of Maine’s homicides are domestic related, he said. The latest domestic killing was a baby boy who was allegedly beaten in Wilton.

“The really sad, distressing number that sticks out is that five of those [victims] are defenseless little children,” McCausland added.

Earlier last month, Gov. John Baldacci held a news conference to warn that the number of domestic-related homicides had doubled. That same day, James Cummings was shot to death allegedly by his wife in their home in Belfast. The shooting remains under investigation.

The number of fire deaths in 2008 stood at 15, which was far better than the average of about 20 deaths per year in the 1990s, said Fire Marshal John Dean. The lowest number of fire deaths recorded in Maine was 12, set in both 2007 and in 1995, Dean said.

Fire deaths in Maine tend to be concentrated in the cold-weather months — there were no fire deaths between June 8 and Nov. 21. Dean remains concerned about the current heating season as more people switch to alternative sources because of the economic downturn.

Dean expects more people to be using wood for heat, as well as more use of portable space heaters. People should properly maintain their fireplaces and wood stoves, and be careful not to let combustible materials get near space heaters, Dean said.

Maine also recorded the fewest highway deaths in 50 years in 2008, with the preliminary tally at 152, making it the safest year since 1959, when the state recorded 136 deaths, the lowest recorded figure, McCausland said.