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.
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.
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 risks to the occupants, their neighbours and firefighters because:
- Non-functional gas or electricity may result in unsafe practices for cooking and heating, this combined with high fuel loads provides greater opportunity for fire ignition.
- Possessions blocking exits and narrowing internal pathways impedes escape for the occupant and access for firefighters.
- Accumulation of possessions results in an abnormally high fuel load, creating excessive smoke and fire conditions, and possible structural collapse. Under these conditions:
- fighting these fires and searching for occupants is far more difficult.
- neighbours can quickly be affected.
Victorian fire services (CFA and MFB) recommend 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
- Remove clutter from the stove top and around the cooking area
- Remove clutter from around heaters and electrical items and discourage the use of open flame
Hoarding is a complex issue which requires intervention and long term support from appropriate agencies. One-off clean-ups are not effective. If the underlying issues are not addressed the accumulation of materials begins again. It is important that links with staff at relevant agencies, particularly health and human services, are formed.
CFA will not undertake inspections of residential properties unless required by VCAT or Victorian Courts (including, Coroners, Magistrates’, High or Supreme).
Agencies working with those with increased fire risk associated with hoarding, for further information please contact the CFA Program Design and Community Development Team. Ph: 9262 8444 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.