Hoarded homes can be at a higher risk of fire. The number of possessions can also lead to exit routes becoming blocked, making safe evacuation more difficult. Fires spread much faster, especially if doors cannot be closed and where there are flammable items such as newspapers or cardboard lying around.
This page will give you guidance on how to help someone who's hoarding and reduce their risk of fire.
What you can do
- If you know a friend, family member, or someone you care for is hoarding, talk to them about our free home safety visit service.
- A friendly fire safety technician will visit them in their home to give advice and guidance without judgement or embarrassment.
- If someone wants to get rid of items, professional help is available. There is a register of professional declutterers who can work with people to support them to remove excess belongings.
Safety tips to prevent a fire in a hoarded home
If someone you know lives in a home that is full of belongings, help them to live more safely by:
- helping them to plan and practise a fire escape plan. Stress the importance of clear routes and exits in case of a fire. Practise the plan often. Exit routes may change as new items are brought into the home.
- installing working smoke alarms in the home. Test them every week (or at least once a month).
- making sure flammable items (such as tea towels, dishcloths and clothes) are kept away from portable heaters, the stove or the oven
- checking electrical wiring - it may be old or worn from the weight of their possessions. Pests can chew on wires. Damaged wires can start fires.
- helping them to manage their paperwork - newspapers and mail are particularly flammable. Recycle newspapers and post as soon as it is finished with. In the event of a fire, they would cause it to spread rapidly.
- encouraging safer smoking habits such as smoking outside, discarding cigarettes in a suitable ashtray, and regularly emptying ashtrays. Find out more about how to support a friend who is a smoker.
Book a home safety visit and we’ll install free smoke alarms and specialist equipment and have a conversation with the person about keeping safe in their home.
Our video shows Tim's story about hoarding
In this video, Tim talks about his dad's hoarding of car parts and machinery. He explains how we work with people who display hoarding behaviours and their families through our non-judgemental home safety visit service.
Tim: Hi, my name's Tim Quiterio.
I'm a Crew Manager for Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service.
We want to work with people in the community, and allow them to live happy, safe, healthy, and independent lives.
Hoarding is an uncomfortable thing to talk about. people don't routinely talk about it.
My dad was a mechanic by trade, and he always had his head inside a combustion engine of some sort!
His property had every car part you can imagine.
He also heated his home with a makeshift, DIY oil burner.
He also collected and retained used engine oil to heat that oil burner.
There were dangerous conditions because of the weight of all his belongings.
It was heartbreaking to come across all of my childhood memories.
If my dad saw value in it, he kept it. And he was right because it was stuff I cherish from my childhood.
But because of his hoarding, it had been destroyed.
I wish I had that uncomfortable conversation with my dad when he was alive because help is there.
Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service want to speak to you. We want to help you to live safely at home.
We offer free home fire safety visits.
Hoarders can be at increased risk of fire. The number of possessions can also mean exit routes are blocked, making safe evacuation more difficult, and fire spread much faster. Especially if doors can't be closed and where flammable items such as paper and newspapers are blocking the exit.
We don't judge at all, we just want to help.
If it means we need to fit additional smoke alarms, and additional equipment to your property we will.
That way if a fire broke out you will be given an early indication that the fire was there, allowing you to take action.
Additionally, we want to protect the operational fire crews because in the event a fire did break out, we would have to commit firefighters to that.
And because of all the collections and possessions that will increase the risk to those firefighters.
There would be a rapid escalation of fire if it was combustible materials and there is the possibility of entrapment.
There is an increased risk of structural collapse.
If a fire did break out in my dad's property, I very much doubt he would have been able to get out uninjured or get out at all.
So, what I'm here talking about today, is please, if you have loved ones, if you have friends, if you have family members or if you are a person that has a high amount of possessions - please speak to someone.
Please have that uncomfortable conversation with them.
Please get in contact because we can help.
- Read our related fire safety advice on oxygen cylinders. There’s information about emollient creams, and specialist advice to support smokers.
- NHS website – hoarding disorder.
- Help for Hoarders.
- Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers.