The cool weather this month has contributed to a string of deadly house fires, and forecasters are expecting yet another cold weekend ahead.
Eleven counties in Middle Tennessee have a fire death rate twice as high as the national average, and the state fire marshal has expressed concern for years about the area's fire death problem.
Many factors could be to blame for the high number of deaths - many of the fires are in rural locations far from emergency services and many of the homes don't have a working smoke alarm.
An estimated 75 percent of the people who die in house fires don't have a working smoke alarm, but that is just the beginning of the conversation. Some people wrongly assume they would smell the smoke in their sleep and still be able to get out alive.
"The fact is you don't always smell toxic gasses, and it's not typically the fire that kills most people. It's the toxic gasses and smoke byproducts of the fire," said Gary West, Tennessee assistant commissioner for fire prevention.
That is why the state is now sending smoke alarms to high-risk counties for free, where a local fire department will then install the devices in your home for free.
"The smoke alarms we recommend are the 10-year battery smoke alarms, because they provide safety for 10 years - not for six months or a year," West said.
While every home in every county is at risk for fires, there are some eye-opening statistics.
Only 13 people have died in Tennessee this century in homes built this century. Experts say it's not because those homes are new. Instead, it's about the upkeep.
Most fires, 58 percent, start in a home's heating and cooling system or other electrical equipment.
The 11 counties where smoke alarms will be provided for free include: Decatur, DeKalb, Fentress, Grundy, Jackson, Marshall, Overton, Perry, Stewart, Trousdale and Wayne.
For more information, contact the Division of Fire Prevention at 615-741-2981.
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