Are you a hoarder? What is the difference between poor housekeeping and what is considered a dangerous amount of clutter?
There is no specific data available for the relationship between hoarding and fire safety, but we do know that hoarding fires are harder to fight.
Firefighters often have to climb over clutter or wade through items to find an ignition source. Searches cannot be done in the traditional way.
That means not only might firefighters have a tough time getting inside due to blocked doors, but they also might have a hard time getting someone out who might be trapped inside.
In extreme hoarding cases, windows and doors might be completely blocked.
All that “stuff” provides a greater fuel load that will burn hotter and faster. This now increases the chance of a structural collapse and extends the firefighting time, which can lead to a greater likelihood of civilian and firefighter injuries.
In the case of an apartment complex, neighbors are at risk as well. Not only does hoarding cause a fire hazard but a health hazard as well, especially when pets are involved.
Hoarders often are too embarrassed to call plumbers, electricians or repair people to come into their home, so many appliances might be neglected, which increases the chance of a fire. This also can lead to residents resorting to using space heaters and candles as a heat or light source – which again increases the risk for fire.
Hoarding is not a new problem but because of shows like A&E’s “Hoarders” and TLC’s “Hoarding: Buried Alive,” there seems to be an increased awareness. We aren’t talking about people who have a lot of stuff; we’re talking about those who are overwhelmed by their possessions to the point of a health and safety threat.
Remember there is a difference between being a collector or being a hoarder. Take a good look at your surroundings. Maybe you would not be considered a compulsive hoarder, but could your home situation still be considered a fire risk?
It’s a great time to evaluate your situation and start on that spring cleaning.
For more resources on hoarding, visit hoarding.iocdf.org.
Cinda Seamon is the fire and life safety educator for the Town of Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue.