Nfld. & Labrador

Collecting trouble: hoarder homes at greater risk of fire

The St. John's Regional Fire Department is warning that hoarding creates piles of fire hazards and often puts home owners and fire fighters at risk.

St. John's Regional Fire Dept. urges hoarders to de-clutter

Platoon chief Rick Dehann, with the St. John's Regional Fire Department, says hoarding can pose risks for both residents and emergency responders if there is a fire. (CBC)

The St. John's Regional Fire Department is warning hoarders their piles of collectibles create fire hazards, and often puts home owners and firefighters at risk.

"There are issues with mobility within the house for the individual and for first responders," says platoon chief Rick Dehann.

If you've ever been inside the home of a hoarder, you know that counters, sinks, desks and all other surfaces are usually stacked with stuff. And the The St. John's Fire Department says that creates piles of fire hazards. In a release sent out on Monday

He added obstructed escape routes aren't the only concern.

"The more materials within a structure, the greater the heat release, the smoke and toxin releases," said Dehann.

"So of course that can be detrimental to an individual attempting to escape a burning structure."

Complex mental health issue

While some may see hoarding as a bad and messy habit, registered psychologist Janine Hubbard said it's a complex mental health issue that affects two to six per cent of the population.

"[Hoarding] involves persistent difficulties discarding or parting with items regardless of value," said Hubbard, a director with the Association of Psychology Newfoundland and Labrador.

Janine Hubbard is a registered psychologist and a director with the Association of Psychology Newfoundland and Labrador. (Submitted)

Hoarding often starts during childhood and worsens as a person ages, she added.

It's now considered an obsessive-compulsive disorder and is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) used by psychiatrists to diagnose mental illness.

Hubbard said hoarders feel "a strong need to save items, a strong attachment to items and there's a fair bit of distress associated with getting rid of those items."

Helping a hoarder

While some people who hoard may not feel they have a problem, their behavior can be distressing to others, including family, friends and landlords.

If you suspect someone you know is a hoarder, Hubbard suggests seeking professional help.

Hubbard added offering to help tidy up can be beneficial, but it's best to approach the person with concerns about safety, not with concerns about the appearance of their home.

"Keep an eye for warning signs like family and friends who suddenly aren't letting you into the house," said Hubbard.

Tips from fire department

In order to reduce the risk of fire, the St. John's Fire Department suggests keeping cooking areas clear.

In addition, sorting and recycling highly combustible mail and newspapers often will reduce risk.

Make sure all escape routes are kept clear at all times.


Caroline Hillier is the producer of the St. John's Morning Show.