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Fire in cluttered home kills suspected hoarder

(by Staff, CTV news)


Vancouver fire crews have removed a body from a home that was so full of boxes and junk it was impossible for them to go inside and put out the flames.


Crews trained in high-angle rescues dropped a ladder through the roof Monday to remove a man’s body, a day after the home in the 700-block of West 23rd Ave. was heavily damaged by fire.


The daughter of neighbour Beverly Hanna heard moaning inside when the structure caught fire, but was unable to help because the home was packed to the rafters with debris.


“She tried to push the front door. She desperately screamed to open the door and the door opened but it only went back four inches because there was so much debris blocking the door,” Hanna said.


Firefighters also were unable to enter the home after multiple attempts because of a high safety risk. Crews could only douse it from the outside with water, which Vancouver Fire Battalion Chief Randy Hebenton said was upsetting to the crews.


“I don’t know if you can imagine how they feel knowing there might be someone in there and they can’t get in. They couldn’t get in because of the debris,” said Hebenton.


Hanna said the home has been in a cluttered state for decades. It is owned by an elderly woman in a nursing home, Hanna said, but her son has lived there on and off for many years.


“I’ve seen him coming in and out of the back and using the community centre as his washroom,” Hanna said.


“It was just a matter of time for this to happen.”


The fire department has never been contacted about the property. The blaze is not being treated as suspicious and the victim’s name has not been released.


Hebenton called the fire an “unfortunate travesty,” likely caused by the massive accumulation of boxes and garbage being stored inside.


“If you have a lot more combustibles than your average house it will go up faster,” he said. “It makes it harder for you to exit in case of a fire and makes it extremely difficult for us as firefighters to initiate a rescue.”


Clinical psychologist Dr. Joti Samra said the fire represents “the worst outcome” of what can happen when someone has their life taken over by hoarding.


Samra said many hoarders suffer from a mental health condition and are often physically unable to part with their things.


“It’s easy as outsiders to look at this and get disgusted and say ‘how can they live this way?’ but we have to understand these are individuals who have significant psychological pain and have never gotten the support to work through that.”


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