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Guest Commentary

Fox: Hoarding can invite fire into home


I recently was dispatched to investigate a fire in Sun City.

The fire investigation is performed to determine the cause and origin of the fire, which was difficult in this case to determine because of the amount of material that was in the home. In addition, there were many cats in the home that had not been constantly cared for. There is a term for individuals who have a condition that makes it difficult for them to discard items that are no longer of use. Hoarding is that term.

Hoarding is a condition where a person has persistent difficulty discarding personal possessions. The large amount of possessions fills the home and prevents the normal use of the space. Living space becomes cluttered and may be unusable. Hoarding brings distress and emotional health concerns. Hoarding can also cause infestation of unwanted guests, such as bugs and vermin.

Hoarding conditions can pose additional or increased risk of fire.

Cooking is unsafe if flammable items are too close to, or stored on, the stove or in the oven.

Heating units — including water heaters — may be too close to things that can burn. They might also be placed on unstable surfaces. If a heater tips over into a pile, it can cause a fire.

Electrical wiring may be old or worn from the weight of piles of items. Pests could chew on electrical wires. Damaged electrical wires can start fires.

Open flames from smoking materials or candles in a home with excess clutter are very dangerous.

Blocked pathways and exits may hinder escape from a fire, or make it difficult for the occupant to navigate through the home, causing them to fall or injure themselves.

Hoarding also impacts first responders.

Hoarding puts first responders in harm’s way. Imagine a home filled with smoke, so the firefighter tries to stay low, but cannot get through because of the clutter. With turn-out gear and an air supply on their back, the firefighter needs room to move around. Firefighters cannot move swiftly through a home filled with clutter.

Responders can be trapped in a home when exits are blocked. They can be injured by objects falling from piles. The weight of the stored items, especially if water is added to put out a fire, can lead to building collapse.

Fighting fires is very risky in a hoarding home. The condition makes it more difficult to enter the home to provide medical care or to remove

the patient for medical transport. The clutter impedes the search and rescue of people and pets.

The condition complicates the job of the fire investigator to determine the cause of the fire.

Here are ways you can help reduce the risk of fire injury.

When talking with a person who hoards, focus on safety rather than the clutter. Be empathetic. Match the person’s language. If they call it hoarding, then you can call it hoarding.

Help the residents make a home safety and escape plan. Stress the importance of clear pathways and exits. Practice the plan often. Exit routes may change as new items are brought into the home.

Install working smoke alarms in the home. Test them at least once per month.

Reach out to community resources. Talk to members of the fire department to alert them of your concerns. They may be able to connect you with members of a hoarding task force for additional help. The contact for the regional Hoarding Task Force is azhoarding@gmail.com.

Editor’s Note: We’d like to invite our readers to submit their civil comments, pro or con, on this issue. Email AZOpinions@iniusa.org.