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London Fire Brigade has today released a video which shows the devastating effects of a fire in a hoarder’s home. The film illustrates how quickly a fire can take hold in these conditions.
According to new data, hoarding has been a factor in nearly 20 fire deaths over the past three years, with firefighters attending around two fires a week in the homes of hoarders.
The film made in laboratory conditions ahead of National Hoarding Awareness Week, shows a heavily cluttered room catching fire. Within minutes the room is almost entirely alight and thick with choking smoke.
The Brigade warns that cluttered rooms, make it much easier for a fire to start and a greater risk of excessively rapid fire spread increasing the risk of injury and death. Dangerously high levels of clutter also makes it very difficult for people involved trying to escape and may lead to extreme difficulties for firefighters tackling the blaze.
London Fire Brigade is asking for people with hoarding tendencies or their friends and family to get in contact and arrange a home fire safety visit. The free visit will give firefighters a chance to work with the hoarder and make sure they know what to do if there is a fire and how to escape.
All firefighters are now trained to understand the condition and to work together with people with hoarding tendencies to make their homes safer. The Brigade’s aim is not to demonise people but to actively work with them to help them understand the potential fire risks they face and look for solutions to manage their hoarding tendencies.
To consistently identify the level of hoarding in homes across the capital, fire crews use a clutter image rating of between one to four, for normal levels, and, up to nine for the most serious cases. Where a resident is identified as having hoarding tendencies, fire officers talk with the hoarder and depending on the level of clutter inform the local social services.
A heavily cluttered room takes a lot less energy to reach flashover conditions and will cause the fire to burn for longer and spread more rapidly. Hoarded properties also increase the risk to residents and firefighters as escape routes are routinely blocked. A flashover is the near-simultaneous ignition of most of the directly exposed combustible material in an enclosed area.
The risk of serious injury and loss of life is not confined to hoarders or their neighbours, hoarded properties also put firefighters in danger. The Brigade has released pictures of a fire in Blackheath this year which shows the dangerous levels of clutter which severely hampered firefighters attempts to deal with the fire. Fire crews had to remove the rear window as entry to the property was impossible. Thankfully the resident had only minor smoke inhalation and no firefighters were injured.
London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson said:
“Fires in cluttered homes can spread like wildfire, putting those who live them at serious risk of injury or worse and potentially endangering our firefighters who go to tackle them.
“We’re committed to working with people with hoarding tendencies and are calling on them and their friends and family to arrange a free home fire safety visit with us so that we can help them stay safe.”
Notes to editors
Video is available here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPWI24uvs4E (contains no audio).
The Brigade offers free home fire safety visits and especially targets those most at risk from fire to take up the service. For more information go to http://www.london-fire.gov.uk/HomeFireSafetyVisit.asp.
When certain organic materials are heated, they undergo thermal decomposition and release flammable gases. Flashover occurs when the majority of the exposed surfaces in a space are heated to their autoignition temperature and emit flammable gases.
Brigade’s top tips for hoarders
• Whether you use a traditional oven/hob, or other methods of cooking like a portable stove, make it a priority to keep the cooking area clear.
• Make sure you have a working smoke alarm on every level of your home and test it as part of your regular clearance sessions. Hoarders are at greater risk and should look to have more fire detection in their homes. You can contact your local fire and rescue service for advice.
• Ensure possessions are stored on stable surfaces and do not stack items to a height that they become unstable – they could fall over blocking your escape .
• Newspapers and mail stored in bulk are highly combustible and will cause a fire to spread rapidly. Sort mail and newspapers on the day you receive them and recycle them on a regular basis.
• In the event of a fire, do not attempt to put it out yourself – leave your home straight away and call the fire brigade once you are safely outside.
• Do not stop on your way out to collect possessions and do not go back inside once you have escaped.
If you feel that you need some help or assistance with the above, there are many organisations that will support you through the process free of charge – for details, go to www.helpforhoarders.co.uk/resources/