The excessive accumulation of objects in a home is called hoarding. And this creates hazards both for the homeowner and the home’s residents, one of which is fire danger.
Fire Dangers of Hoarding
When stuff is piled high, fires have more fuel and can spread quickly throughout a home. Many homes contain piles of dry old newspapers and other flammable materials that go up in flames instantly. Piles near areas where cooking takes place or heating units are placed are particularly hazardous. Smoking or open flames on candles also create fire dangers.
Items piled onto cords and wires can cause damage to those electrical cords, resulting in a short that can create a fire. Vermin and other pests can chew through wires, also compromising them.
Smoke and Fumes
Since more objects are burning, excessive smoke accumulates. Many of these items can put off toxic fumes as well, creating breathing issues and potentially deadly situations for residents and firefighters.
When stuff is piled high in rooms, it can be difficult to get to the exits. In case of a fire, residents need to be able to both access exits, which they cannot do if exits are blocked, and reach them quickly. People can also become trapped in a home when piles fall over and block doors and windows.
Dangers to Firefighters
Not only are residents of a hoarding situation in danger during a fire, firefighters are also put at risk. Firefighters can become blocked in a home, or succumb to toxic smoke and fumes. They can suffer difficulty trying to perform search and rescue operations. And when water is added to the weight of the accumulated objects, it can cause floors or walls to collapse.
Since approximately 6% of Americans are considered hoarders, firefighters often undergo special training to deal with fire dangers in this situation. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is studying ways to tackle safety issues related to compulsive hoarding.
Why do People Hoard?
People tend to hoard because they feel a strong urge to collect items they think will be useful in the future. They also feel strong discomfort with thoughts of getting rid of or losing these items. The home becomes overpopulated with things, sometimes to the point where living in the home is compromised. Hoarding is often associated with a mental disorder that can be triggered by traumatic events or losses in the person’s past, depression, dementia or obsessive compulsive disorder. The don’t consciously realize that their hoarding could be creating fire dangers.
How Can You Assist?
When speaking with a person who hoards, talk about safety, not their clutter. You need to be empathetic to the reasons why they hoard, which may be out of their control. See if you can help them to understand how their hoarding is putting their families or themselves in danger.
Ensure that a series of working smoke alarms are installed throughout the home. Test them monthly. Help the person to create an evacuation plan should a fire occur and make sure that each room has more than one exit path. Check regularly to see that new objects have not been placed to block exits.
Related: Hoarding and Fire: Reducing the Risk | NFPA
123JUNK Can Help
When a hoarder is ready—or required—to empty a home, you’ll need to bring in junk removal specialists, like 123JUNK. We train our staff in how to work with individuals and health professionals in hoarding situations, so we understand the nuances and the empathy needed to perform our job. We don’t want to see hoarding create fire dangers for anyone.
123JUNK can remove partial hoards or help with a whole-house cleanout. Call us today to learn how we can help. We serve Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C. and Maryland.