Hoarding plays role in double fatal fire in SF

August 17, 2012 12:06:27 PM PDT
San Francisco's fire chief has a major warning for everyone in the wake of an overnight fire in the Excelsior District that killed two men. Something in the home kept firefighters from quickly rescuing the victims. The fire broke out around 3:30 this morning on Vienna Street near John McLaren Park.

Firefighters said this looks like an extreme case of hoarding. A large pile of belongings is on the driveway so it would not flare back up, but they said that pile was nothing compared to what was found inside. Firefighters said there was so much stuff stockpiled inside the home, they had a hard time getting to the victims.

"It took longer than it normally would in a house that would be free of the debris. It took us about 20 minutes to get the first victim and then another 10 or 12 minutes to locate the second victim," said San Francisco Fire Dept. Chief Joanne Hayes-White.

Normally she said it would just take a minute or two. Both of the elderly men inside died.

"A loss of life is always disheartening, but I'm confident that the crews here did the best they could, with a rapid response and an aggressive search to get the best response that was humanly possible," said SF Fire Dept Asst. Chief Matthew McNaughton.

One firefighter said two of three rooms had stuff stacked all the way to the ceiling. In the kitchen he said you couldn't get to the sink.

"I had a hard time walking through and I had the benefit of having it cleared of smoke and flames, so the crews did an incredible job in suppressing the fire and trying to attempt rescue," said Hayes-White.

People in the neighborhood said they could tell there was a possible hoarding issue without even going inside the home.

"When you look through the windows you could just see piles and piles of things. You know I'm really sorry that happened," said Karen Ande of San Francisco.

Firefighters said it appears one of the men did get up and try to escape. Neighbors said the other man was bed ridden.

"They were nice people, one of them was real sick, the other one was a really good guy and took care of the other one," said neighbor Thomas Kennedy.

The chief said hoarding is more common than you might think, but this is an extreme case. At this point investigators are still trying to figure out what started this fire.


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