Reduce the Risk of Holiday Fires by Not Hoarding Your Stuff

A local fire official warns against “pack-rat” tendencies.

Do you know anyone who has so much stuff it's a fire hazard? (Photo Credit: Corbis)
Do you know anyone who has so much stuff it's a fire hazard? (Photo Credit: Corbis)

Candles and twinkling lights combined with piles of stuff is a holiday recipe for disaster. Some recent Maryland fires were exacerbated by homes with too much stuff, and that was before anyone lit a ceremonial candle or decorated a flammable Christmas tree.

An 82-year-old Maryland man died last month after firefighters were unable to reach him because the College Park home was reportedly filled with stuff from top to bottom.

“If you know someone in your neighborhood with ‘pack-rat’ tendencies, do what you can to help, or get them help,” tweeted Prince George’s County Fire Chief Marc Bashoor from the scene along with a photo on Nov. 10.  

Although the man’s wife was able to escape, a fire official stated that the clutter in the home made the rescue a difficult one. A video posted on Instagram shows flames coming out of the roof of the home and the side of the home had to be torn off to remove debris.

"Extreme congestion of materials stored in the house made it challenging to negotiate inside the home," according to Mark Brady, Prince George's County Fire spokesman.

Studies reveal that hoarding—collecting or keeping large amounts of various items—is common and most people don’t seek a professional diagnosis or help. In some cases, it could be that a person is simply not organized or too busy to deal with the excess stuff. But the condition can escalate, especially as people get older.

“Individuals with pathological hoarding refuse to discard objects and accumulate such clutter in their homes that these become close to uninhabitable,” according to Peter Roy-Byrne in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine’s JournalWatch.

One of the keys to preventing too much clutter is to recognize a hoarding situation in the making. Readers offered some observations along with safety suggestions for the holidays on Maryland Patch Facebook pages.

“This is one of the reasons I have a 24-hour rule on newspapers. If I haven't read it by the next morning, out it goes. It is all too easy to let stuff pile up when you believe you will get around to it or might need ‘later.’ Later never comes,” Chris Nielsen Berg wrote on Bethesda-Chevy Chase Patch’s Facebook page.

“Any time someone has a couch or Lazy Boy on the porch, you know it's bad news,” Becky Albritton wrote on Catonsville Patch’s Facebook page.

“‘Tis' the season to think it's okay to hang dangerous lights near flammable materials, and light candles all the time,” Peter Monaghan wrote on Columbia Patch’s Facebook page.

Sharon Thompson offered these tips Gaithersburg Patch’s Facebook page: “Unplug your lights on your tree when you go out. Never leave candles burning, blow them out if you go out.”

Mark P. Shores suggested on Dundalk Patch’s Facebook page that people “feel the electrical cords, extensions, if they are hot start unplugging and put them on different circuits.”

“My husband was a Baltimore city firefighter,” wrote Chris Davis on Bel Air Patch’s Facebook page. “Main cause of fires are cigarettes and unattended candles—especially during holidays … people forget how dangerous fire is.”

For more information about hoarding and fire safety, click here for tips from the National Fire Protection Association.

TELL US: Do you worry about holiday fires? Do you know anyone who has so much stuff it's a fire hazard? Leave a comment to let us know.


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