Our homes, our offices, our businesses all get a little cluttered at times. Usually with some quick organizing, we can get things straightened up and everything put away, so that we can get back to business. What happens when clutter begins to look like hoarding? What are the fire safety risks?
Approximately 4 million people in the U.S. can meet the full criteria for hoarding and about 1.4 million are confirmed compulsive hoarders. Unlike collecting, hoarders save random items like newspapers, appliances, and junk mail that they have persistent difficulty getting rid of or parting with, leading to clutter that disrupts their ability to use their living or work spaces.
Because hoarders accumulate so many possessions that congest living or work areas to the point that they can no longer be used or lived in, this condition brings a host of fire safety risks.
The National Fire Protection Association reports that many fire departments experience serious fires, injuries, and death as a result of compulsive hoarding behavior. In 2011, a California couple died in a house fire that officials had tried to get cleaned up for many years, the New York Times reported. Many other cases like this are prevalent, and unfortunately at Sage Restoration, we have experienced cases like this.
We encourage everyone to check on their loved ones and get help before the hoarding situation turns fatal. We can help with the cleanup and we would much rather come in to clean up debris than clean up a fire or death caused by hoarding.
Why is Compulsive Hoarding a Fire Hazard?
Hoarding is a serious fire hazard because exits like windows, hallways, and doors blocked by clutter prevent the residents from escaping and prevent firefighters from entering and/or finding the resident in a fire. Many hoarders are also injured tripping over items trying to escape or when mounds of possessions fall on them, and they become trapped under the debris.
There is also a risk of structural damage due to the weight of hoarded items. This excessive amount of items adds easy fuel for a fire, making it difficult to suppress a fire, and an increased risk of a fire being ignited. All of this makes the fire situation more dangerous not only for the resident but also for those trying to help.
Neighbors can also be severely affected by a compulsive hoarder’s environment in the event of a fire. Hoarding creates perfect conditions for explosive house fires, as well as infestations of vermin that spread disease. Two years ago, there was Toronto high-rise apartment fire that was started when a cigarette dropped onto a balcony packed with items. The one-bedroom apartment was also stuffed with items to where firefighters had to battle against the apartment’s contents to get in and extinguish the fire. Three firefighters and 14 residents were injured and all of the complex’s residents were rendered temporarily homeless due to the extensive fire damage to the building.
Hoarders also have an increased risk of fire when their compulsion begins to interfere with their daily life. Because of intense clutter, they may lose utility bills and then electricity gets turned off and residents start using candles and gas burners just inches from their mounds of hoarded items.
How can individuals help a person who is compulsively hoarding? Call a restoration company with experience in hoarding clean up.
Far from making for just an interesting television show, compulsive hoarding is a national issue that poses serious fire safety and health hazards. In our next installment of Hoarding at Home, we will address death and hoarding.
If you or someone you know is living in a home with severe clutter and in a hoarding situation, contact the professionals at Sage Restoration. #ServiceWithCompassion