Valley Hoarders Endanger Themselves and Emergency Responders

October 8, 2009 7:37:43 PM PDT
A Fresno County woman who doesn't want to be identified, describes her neighbor as a compulsive pack rat. Experts call it hoarding.The neighbor said, "It's terrible. In fact, I don't know how she lived in there. It was so wall-to-wall everything, she had boxes and the backyard is filled with all the stuff they're still pulling out of the house."

Firefighters say the stacks of boxes and clutter inside the Tarpey Village home was so massive they couldn't get in to put out a fire in June.

Cal Fire Captain Mike Bowman said, "It was stacked 4 to 5 feet high, boxes inside the house. We had to go to the roof instead and cut holes for the smoke so they could see inside." The anonymous neighbor said, "I was afraid my house was gonna catch fire because it was so close."

Action News couldn't reach the homeowner but her neighbor for nearly 30 years says no one was ever allowed inside. "I don't even think her children were allowed in the house in 27 years. When she would have visitors, they sat in their car and spoke with one another. "

Esko Siipola, a Fresno County Code Enforcement officer said, "Through our training we understood it was more of a cognitive psychological disorder." Some hoarders, like the elderly woman who lived at the Storyland Motel, create a tiny path to get around. Even so, fires and medical emergencies can turn into tragedies when responders can't get in. Chuck Tobias with the Fresno Fire Department said, "They had a real rough time with this house just trying to get inside."

Two weeks ago, a Central Fresno couple escaped the fire that ravaged their cluttered house but code enforcement officers said others have died, becoming prisoners among the very belongings they refused to get rid of.

Experts say 60% of hoarders who get help eventually fall back into their old ways. However, most cities provide several services to help people overcome their fears of parting with belongings.

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