Investigators are trying to figure out how a man wound up dead and buried in hoarded debris inside his Downtown Eastside room.

Vancouver police, firefighters, and paramedics were called to the third floor of the four-storey building at 561 E Hastings St. late Wednesday night after reports of an unpleasant smell.

Battalion Chief Terry Nikolai with Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services said officials suspected someone had died inside one of the rooms, but it had to be confirmed.

"Our members put their Tyvek suits on — some protective clothing — took some plywood sheets, laid them down as ground cover and partially uncovered the body, just to confirm that this person was deceased."

Nikolai said the single-room suite's floor couldn't be seen, as it was completely covered by junk — from televisions, a microwave, and clothing to all sorts of unidentifiable garbage.

Hoarding death

Battalion Chief Terry Nikolai with Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services says hoarding behaviour can create a hazardous situation for first responders and neighbours. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"He was buried ... under two or three feet of debris," Nikolai said of the man. 

The battalion chief said his crews struggled to unearth the body, which was in an advanced stage of decomposition. Once firefighters had removed enough rubbish to reveal the man's condition, they withdrew from the suite, leaving the scene for the coroner to handle.

"It's very strange. The police are here on scene and they're investigating as well," he said.

The man's identity hasn't been released.

'There's definite hazards in there'

Hoarding death

Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services' trench rescue trailer is parked in front of 561 E Hastings Street, while first responders work to remove a body from a deep pile of hoarded debris Wednesday night. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Nikolai noted that hoarding behaviour like this poses serious risks — his crew had to use extreme caution, fully decontaminating after the call — and neighbours are put at risk as well.

"There's always a fire hazard with the hoarding, so that's always a concern. There's so much debris in that room, it's at least three feet high, in some places probably higher, maybe up to four or five feet high in other areas."

"Just a stray cigarette butt or something could cause a huge problem," said Nikolai. "There's neighbours that are right next door and there's probably 20 or more suites in that building."

"There's definite hazards in there," said Nikolai, adding that he didn't expect anybody to be displaced after the incident.