Are you a hoarder? Hoarding can Contribute to Fire Risks

by Guest writer, Mark Hustwitt (Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, Communications and Engagement Manager, Bedfordshire)

It is estimated that there are over 7,000 people in Bedfordshire who hoard their possessions and clutter their homes. Hoarding increases the risk of fires to both the person living there and to firefighters who might need to assist if a fire breaks out.

Between 2% and 5% of adults have hoarding disorder symptoms. These can start in the teenage years and become more problematic in older age. How items are organised separates a "collection" from “hoarding”. Collections are well-ordered and easily accessible, a hoard is usually disorganised, items take up a lot of space making the room largely inaccessible.

Most of the possessions that accumulate in hoarders homes are combustible, such as newspapers, magazines, cardboard boxes etc.  These items will provide a ready supply of fuel for any fire that may start in the hoarder’s home, causing the fire to rapidly become established and spread throughout the house.  The presence of possessions on floors creates slips, trips and falls hazards along with blocked exits all serve to impede a prompt and safe escape.  Additional risks include someone being trapped by falling items. It is also possible that furniture and ceilings could even collapse under the extra weight piled upon them.

From Canadian Firefighter

Someone with a hoarding disorder may keep or collect items with little or no monetary value like junk mail and carrier bags, or items they say they intend to reuse or repair. They will find it hard to categorise or organise items, have difficulties making decisions and struggle to manage everyday tasks, such as cooking, cleaning and paying bills. They find themselves becoming extremely attached to items, refusing to let anyone touch or borrow them and generally have poor relationships with family or friends.

If this sounds like you, a relative or neighbour below are suggestions to help ease the problems created by hoarding.

The more possessions you have the more there risk there is.  Reduce what you have as part of a regular clearance session. If you are storing items to recycle them, recycle them now, don’t keep them for long periods. Ensure you have working smoke alarms, test them once a week.  Every second counts – the earlier you are warned of a fire the more chance you have of surviving.

Always have clear entrances, exits and pathways to your home that you can easily pass through without the need to move anything out of the way. Put your door and window keys in a safe accessible place. Items in your home should be fixed securely – they can become dislodged easily causing additional dangers.

Be careful when using fan or gas heaters, never leave them unattended or close to anything flammable. Leave space around microwave ovens, or any appliance with an air vent, to allow air to circulate. Always keep cooking areas clean and tidy. If you smoke please extinguish cigarettes properly using an ashtray.

Never leave candles unattended – always put them in a heat resistant holder.  Keep them away from anything flammable.  As an alternative to conventional candles try LED candles instead.

If you think a family member or someone you know has a hoarding disorder, try to get them to visit their GP. They should be able to refer them to the local community mental health team who may be able to help. If you have difficulties accessing therapy, the charity OCD-UK may be able to help, visit their website