Estimating Burn time in Hoarder Fires

One of the most important observation and/or decisions a first arriving officer to a structure fire is the estimate of how long the fire has been burning.Hoarder Fire  This observation can help make the attack strategies, points of entries, and help predict structural collapse times.  One complication that needs adjusted for is the identification of hoarding conditions being present.  Hoarding is defined as “The accumulation of and failure to discard large amounts of belongings that have no apparent value”. These belongings begin to take over the rooms, as they will no longer be used for their intended purpose.  Rooms become storage areas and access is limited to narrow pathways.

With belongings added repeatedly, they become packed from floor to ceiling.  When these levels reach a certain point it will limit natural ventilation and act like an insulator if a fire were to happen.  A small smoldering fire can be hidden inside these conditions for hours if no one is home to discover it.  Conditions where ventilation is limited and fire spread can be hidden by the amounts of belongings will also hide a fire that has progressed into the free burning stage.  Smoke that has filled a, already full, room will be pushed out of different seems, cracks, or may be hidden until someone discovers it and opens a fresh airport such as a window or door.

Let us take some time to review some key points of dealing with burn time estimates in Hoarding Conditions:

  • Hoarding can contain smoke for an extended amount of time
  • Compression of belongings can keep a fire from progressing at its normal rate
  • Stacks of stuff provide for more fuel for the fire
  • A deep seated fire in a Hoarding Condition may have been burning for an extended time

 

Today’s firefighters are facing an overwhelming amount of changes to our fire scenes.  From energy efficient windows to extra security exterior doors, we need to be more vigilant in our responses.  If you discover a Hoarding condition on your next fire, you should make some adjustments immediately.  The first one should be to add time to the burn time estimate.  By doing this you will allow a larger margin of error before sending firefighters into these structures.  Estimating burn time is not an exact science; it is just an educated guess.  After reading this blog post, I hope that you add time to your estimate to allow firefighters a shorter work period because in a hoarder fire you can never really tell how long it has been burning.