From 2013 through 2015 the greater Washington, DC area saw about a dozen fatal fires linked to excessive clutter. Over the past 12 months we’ve seen at least 4 fires linked to excessive clutter. Last August a woman in Bowie, MD died. In March there were fatal fires in Southeast DC and Arlington, VA. And another fire this month in Aspen Hill, MD.
Fires have always been dangerous. Somehow, they have gotten even worse over recent decades. Nowadays, we tend toward more spacious homes. The homes are constructed of different materials with more “open” floor plans. We’ve taken out all the firewalls, and we’ve filled our rooms with more flimsy and flammable furnishings. All that adds up to fires that grow and spread faster than ever, reducing the amount of time a resident has to escape. So, it’s no surprise that firefighters are at risk. They’ve had injuries lately, including a fire in October in DC, one in January in DC, another in February in Virginia, and last night in Maryland.
Excessive clutter makes home fires even more dangerous. A hoarded home contains much more fuel for a fire, including highly flammable and even combustible materials. The most common item in a cluttered home is paper including newspapers, magazines and bills. Not only can a cluttered home catch fire more easily, but the fire grows hotter and spreads faster making it harder to put out. Worst of all, the constricted paths and blocked doors and windows in a hoarded home take longer to navigate. This means that it is harder for a resident to get out in time, and it is almost impossible for fire fighters to find a lost, trapped, injured or unconscious resident. Unfortunately, the problem is only getting worse.
There are resources for firefighters to teach them the best ways to handle fires in hoarded homes, like Chamber of Hoarders, and classes taught by Ryan Pennington, its founder. But the problem needs to be addressed before there’s a fire. Many times there are public officials who come into contact with a hoarded home. These officials need to know how to reach out and help the residents without them shutting down. Our founder, Maria, has been giving presentations to government officials for years and has now written a book to help them address the needs of the citizens they contact.