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Firefighters say elderly man’s accumulated possessions made house fire harder to fight

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Posted at 10:16 PM, Aug 08, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-09 18:18:13-04

LAYTON, Utah — Fire crews responded to a home in Layton and found smoke pouring from the garage when they arrived, and officials said the homeowner’s large accumulations of possessions added fuel to the fire and made it difficult for crews to access the home and battle the blaze.

Doug Bitton, PIO for Layton City Fire Department, said the 911 call regarding the fire at 1803 East Crestwood Street (1425 North) came in at about 7:30 p.m.

When crews arrived, flames and heavy smoke were visible coming from an open garage and the 86-year-old homeowner was standing outside. The man told firefighters he was uninjured, but he was checked out for heat stress and smoke inhalation by medical personnel as a precaution due to his age.

Bitton said the man reported hearing and feeling a boom from the basement of the home while he was watching TV in the living room, but when he went to investigate the  smoke was such that he couldn’t make it down the stairwell to see what was going on.

The man had a “significant” amount of possessions in the home, which Bitton said created problems for firefighters. There were two separate areas of fire activity in the home, one in the garage and another in the basement.  The accumulations added fuel to the fire and made it difficult for crews to access the home and fight the fire. Bitton said around 9:30 p.m. they were considering the fire to be out, but he said the accumulations meant they still had “a lot of work to do” in the area.

While the homeowner was able to evacuate the home safely, Bitton said accumulations of property can become dangerous when they reach these levels as it can make it hard for people to get out or emergency responders to get in.

Bitton said sometimes people who tend to accumulate items to this extent can suffer from feelings of anxiety when faced with decluttering, and he urges family members and caregivers to those who are elderly to be conscious of living situations and the amount of items in a living space.

The man was the sole occupant of the residence, and Bitton said the man declined an offer of shelter from the American Red Cross and elected to stay with family who lives nearby. The damage is estimated to be $75,000, though firefighters stated that amount could grow once possession loss is accounted for.

While the man was checked out as a precaution, there were no reports of injury.

According to an update from Layton City Fire posted Sunday, investigators determined the fire started in the basement and extended through a void space where natural gas lines penetrated through the wood floor plate to the garage. This ignited paper products and cardboard stored directly near the area. The ignition source is still being investigated.