Flames flare up at Oregon 'hoarding' fire

PORTLAND, Ore. - Firefighters had to deal with clutter from a "hoarder" as they tried to put out a house fire on Thursday morning in North Portland.

On Friday morning, the flames flared back up and firefighters had to return to extinguish them.

When the fire first started on Thursday, firefighters found heavy smoke coming from the house on North Chautauqua. They entered the house, but quickly ran into the clutter, according to Portland Fire and Rescue spokesman Lt. Damon Simmons.

They navigated through "significant clutter" and despite near black-out conditions in the house, they found fire in the basement, main floor and in the attic.

"Close your eyes. That's what you can see in this fire," Simmons said. "It's smoke, it's hot and they're unable to locate the fire because of these conditions."

Since the clutter was dangerous to firefighters and because the house was vacant, commanders decided to pull firefighters out of the house and fight the flames from the outside, Simmons said.

Neighbors said the owner of the home died a few months ago and his or her possessions were left behind.

Nobody was injured in the fire. It's not yet clear how it started and investigators will likely be on the scene through the day to determine the cause, Simmons said.

Simmons said hoarding can increase the likelihood of a fire starting when items come in contact with heat sources. Fires in hoarding houses are also often more severe because there are more combustible items.

He gave a KATU reporter a tour of the burned out house to demonstrate just how dangerous the situation was. Much of the floor was covered with junk and other items.

"You can see some of the insulation and things that have fallen down, but that level you see there, above the floor level, is solid cutter," Simmons explained. "They're crawling over this material and this material also creates a heavier fire load, which means there's more stuff to burn."

The clutter on the floor of this particular house was one to two feet deep.

"When we have to pull out of a fire like that the fire gets more extreme," Simmons said. "The material that's burning just keeps falling down on top of that, so they're having to dig through that just to find the origin of the fire."

If you need help dealing with a hoarding situation, Simmons said you can call 211 to find resources or call the mental health crisis line at (503) 988-4888.