SUISUN CITY (CBS13) — Broken down cars in the driveway, trash piled to the ceiling in the garage, all created a nightmare situation for firefighters battling a house fire Monday.
This is the second time this known hoarder home has caught on fire. Now CBS13 is learning there’s not much the city or first responders can do to stop hoarding situations.
One neighbor said, “Nothing’s ever been done seriously about it, and now this happened.”
For 10 years, the property has been loaded with trash, from front to back.
“There was a lot of rodents coming out of that area,” said neighbor Rick Pracht.
From floor to ceiling, miscellaneous items and trash littered the home. The garage was stuffed to the brim. Monday, someone poured a gas-like substance on the front lawn and set a match.
“It was very scary, it was so real to be that close,” said Ruth Forney.
Forney lives next door and heard a bang at the door. It was a neighbor warning her to get out.
“It was a banging on the door, it was more like pounding,” she said.
She saw fire pouring out of the ceiling and the windows. Crews had to knock down interior structures, but there wasn’t a scratch on Forney’s home.
“When I woke up this morning, I had tears of joy,” Forney said.
Fire Chief Justin Vincent says he knows this house well. It also caught fire in 2014, but Monday’s fire created a perfect storm of challenges for his team.
“Along with the arson situation, on top of this, and the hoarding situation, it took this to a whole other level,” he said.
But CBS13 is digger deeper. We wanted to know, can fire crews enforce hoarding situations? Vincent says, “no.” It is the homeowner’s First Amendment right to be a hoarder if they choose.
“If they want to hoard, and that is their lifestyle, unless we have some health and safety code, there’s not a whole lot we can do,” he said.
Chief Vincent said as long as there is not a threat to life, property or health, enforcement is limited.
In this case, neighbors realize this fire was just inches from spreading to other homes and putting both neighbors and fire crews in danger.
“If someone has a hoarding condition, it truly affects everybody that lives in that area,” Vincent said.
In the middle of putting the fire out, a drunk man tried to interfere with firefighting efforts. He was arrested.
This is being investigated as arson. Police have one person in custody but they are not disclosing whether it is the same man who interfered. Neighbors say they saw a man fighting with another person who lives inside the home minutes before the fire started.