Hoarder Fire: Common Myths

The stories keep coming in as Firefighters are facing more and more fires inside Hoarded Conditions.

Photo by Keven Smith

  It truly is amazing how many we are facing.  It is troubling to hear many firefighters talk about these conditions and immediately go to the fuel load problem.  Since starting my research into this problem of hoarding I have found many other challenges we need to take on.

All Hoarder homes are packed floor to ceiling  

First off, they have a scale to rate the severity of Hoarding conditions.  A level 1 is the start of the problem and a level 5 being the inhabitable end.  As emergency responders with need to identify these levels to adjust our tactics.  This can be difficult if you arrive to find a small fire that is producing a large amount of thick, black smoke.  Smoke conditions will hamper the identification of hoarding inside windows that may already be blocked as the belongings pile up.

All hoarder fires are big fires

Many times Hoarding can offer up small fires that have huge potential.  Sure, the fuel load is increased but the air flow can also be decreased as the compression of the belongings does not allow for “normal” horizontal or vertical ventilation.  This can lead to small, smoldering, decay stage fires that are waiting on one thing, you.  If you respond to a fire to find black stained windows, a large amount of belongings in the back yard, and one or more blocked doors you will need to take steps to reduce the chance of flashover or backdraft.

“We just won’t go in them”

With this potential of smaller fires the adage of “we won’t go in them” gets thrown out the window.  Can we really let a small trashcan fire escalate into a three alarm fire, um no.  If the fire is in the incipient stage, we will all be the first ones to the door to attack.  It is up to us to find ways of adjusting tactics to provide a safer attack.  It is our job to manage fires in any conditions. Managing fires in hoarder homes can be done safely if you take the time to identify, adjust, and attack