(by Staff, ctvbc.ca)
A two-alarm house fire that broke out in Surrey early Saturday morning was tough to fight because of hoarding, fire officials say.
Fire crews were called to Old Yale Road around 12:55 a.m. after a blaze began at a three-storey home.
Once the first crews arrived, they needed to call for backup. A total of 20 firefighters struggled to put out the fire because all three floors held items stacked four feet high.
“Inside the home they found large quantities of personal collectables and just personal belongings that made it challenging for the crews to gain access,” Surrey Fire Chief Brian Woznikoski told CTV News.
Four people lived in the home, but no one was injured.
Surrey firefighters and RCMP are investigating the cause of the fire.
Surrey doesn’t have a wide-ranging plan to deal with cases complicated by hoarding, and very few fires are caused by large collections of personal belongings.
“Probably one per cent of our calls are like this. So we look at it on a case-by-case basis, and if need be we’ll work with bylaws to try and rectify the problem,” Woznikoski said.
Last year, Vancouver became one of the first cities in North America to strike a panel to deal with these complex cases.
But that didn’t prevent a West Side fire in October that claimed the life of a man trapped inside his house packed to the rafters with junk.
Psychologist Dr. Joti Samra, who treats people for hoarding problems, said all but one of her patients were sent to her by officials over safety concerns.
However, she added that cleaning up for or forcing people into treatment almost never works.
“A loved one or an authority will go in and just get rid of it and throw it away. I mean sometimes within weeks, or certainly within months, individuals get back in that situation,” Samra told CTV News.
“We know that throwing away things is just a Band-Aid solution and we actually need to get treatment that looks at the underlying issues.”
While Samra said support and the threat of consequences from authorities can help, success often comes when family or friends get involved.
“Speak with them about it and let them know you’re concerned. I think all too often what happens is people themselves feel like they don’t want to embarrass a loved one, so they won’t talk about it. And that actually just feeds the shame and the stigma around it,” Samra said.
With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Penny Daflos
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