Hoarding; a lethal fire risk

Hoarding; a lethal fire risk

A Lethal Fire Risk

What is ‘hoarding’?

Hoarding is the persistent accumulation of and lack of ability to relinquish large numbers of objects or living animals.  It results in extreme clutter in and around premises, compromising the intended use of premises and threatens the health and safety of people concerned, animals and neighbours. Hoarding is a progressive and chronic condition

What is squalor?

Squalor is an unsanitary living environment that has arisen from extreme/prolonged neglect. It poses substantial health and safety risks to people or animals residing in the affected premises as well as others in the community. 

Hoarding and squalor can exist in isolation or at the same time.

The fire risks

Fires in hoarding homes increase the risk for the occupant, their neighbours and firefighters. MFB research has identified that people who hoard aged 50+ are at particular risk and account for 24 per cent of all preventable fire deaths between 1999 and 2009.

Hoarding increases the risk of fire because:

  • Accumulation of possessions results in an abnormally high fuel load and greater opportunity for ignition
  • Blocked exits and narrow internal pathways impede escape for the occupant and access for firefighters
  • Non-functional gas or electricity may result in unsafe practices for cooking and heating

MFB recommends that in the first instance, individuals or agencies assisting those affected by hoarding should:

  • Install smoke alarms and test them
  • Unblock exits
  • Widen internal pathways
  • Check utilities are connected
  • Prioritise removing clutter from around cooking area and stove tops as 39 per cent of fires in hoarding homes result from cooking
  • Ensure clutter is removed from around heaters and electrical items and discourage the use of open flame as combined these factors account for 44 per cent of fires in hoarding homes

People affected by hoarding may also experience a high level of isolation and reject offers of assistance as they fear this will result in removal of their possessions. People who hoard do so for a variety of different reasons. The effects of hoarding can be apparent inside or outside the house or a combination of both. 

Commonly hoarded items include personal papers, newspapers, clothing, furniture, appliances, household rubbish, animals and hard rubbish.

For further general information please contact the Community Resilience Department on (03) 9665 4464 or commres@mfb.vic.gov.au 

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