A fight with a house fire became a battle against debris Tuesday as Tempe firefighters encountered stacks of newspapers, boxes and aluminum cans at a two-story house on Farmer Avenue and 11th Street.
“We couldn’t get in there to fight the fire,” said Tempe Lt. Michael Reichling, a fire inspector. “Now the home is a total loss because of the (hoarding) condition.”
The 47-year old man who lived at the dwelling escaped the blaze, ignited by a space heater at about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, Reichling said.
“He had overloaded the house with combustible materials,” Reichling said. “Aluminum cans were stacked two to three feet deep. Cardboard, newspapers and 12-pack beer cases were smashed down and stacked to the ceiling. Our crews had to climb over this to get in. We had to evacuate and not do a search and rescue.”
Hoarding, often a mental condition in which people cannot let things go, has become increasingly common, Reichling said. In the last year, it has been a factor in about five fires, and emergency medical crews ran into hoarding about 100 times in 2012.
Tempe needs an ordinance that would allow firefighters to regulate what takes place inside homes, he said. That way people could be ordered to clear away fire hazards before a fire is ignited.
The Arizona Hoarding Task Force may be proposing such an ordinance, Reichling said.
“It is like any other mental condition. They can’t get rid of things. They have a problem of letting things go,” Reichling said.
Among tips to help control hoarding are learning to get past imperfections, understanding your fear and recognizing when fears are irrational.