Woman found dead in Cheverly fire at home where materials were hoarded, officials say

March 31, 2013

Hoarded materials in a Cheverly home hindered firefighters and may have contributed to the Sunday morning blaze that left one woman dead, according to Prince George’s County fire officials.

Firefighters responded to calls about a fire in the 2400 block of 59th Place shortly before 8 a.m. Sunday and found the body of a woman in her 50s or 60s near a stairwell in the house, Prince George’s Fire Chief Marc S. Bashoor said. Fire officials have not publicly identified the woman, who was the only person in the house at the time of the fire.

The house, filled with materials and considered a “hoarding situation,” did not have a working smoke detector, fire officials said. The accumulated materials made it difficult for firefighters to get into the house and might have helped fuel the fire, Bashoor said.

Hoarding, which can include homeowners amassing large amounts of goods to the point of blocking entrances and endangering the integrity of a structure, is often considered a public health and public safety issue because it can lead to fires or other emergencies. It is also now recognized as a significant mental-health issue, causing its sufferers to accumulate objects to the point that they can be endangered by them.

Across the Washington area, local jurisdictions have been setting up hoarding task forces to address the issue and raise awareness.

Sunday afternoon, as a strong smell of smoke hung over the hilly Cheverly block, neighbors described the woman who had lived at the house for more than a decade as an avid gardener. “She was really into her flowers and her garden,” said Dana Hallman, who lives across the street. “On the weekends, if it is a beautiful weather day, she is in the yard from morning to dusk.”

Neighbors said they saw flames shooting out of the roof of the home upon waking Sunday morning.

“It is a tough day,” neighbor Joe McWhorter said.

Neighbors said that when they walked by over the years, they had noticed containers from plants, pots and file boxes piled in the house and garage. On Sunday, boxes and piles of items were visible through the living-room windows.

Before Sunday’s fire, 10 deaths had been attributed to fires in Prince George’s County this year, including a February fire in Glenarden that killed four people, Bashoor said. There were 10 fire-related deaths in Prince George’s in 2012. If the woman’s death on Sunday is attributed to the fire, it would be the county’s 11th fire death this year.

“It has been unusually busy,” Bashoor said.

Fire crews will be out across the county Monday knocking on doors to give out information about the importance of having smoke detectors and alarms, Bashoor said.

Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.
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