WINNIPEG – When a fire broke out on the second floor of a St. James home early Monday morning, attacking the flames from the roof was the only option.
“We had stairs that were missing going up and we encountered a lot of difficulties,” said Platoon Chief Frank Leswick.
Piles and piles of newspapers and garbage filled the entrance and stairway, making fighting the flames impossible.
“It spread very quickly because of the amount of material that was in the house,” said Leswick.
The owner, a man in a 60s, lived alone in the home on Kensington street. He escaped unharmed.
Neighbour Lila Nicklin was woken up by a noise and when she looked outside, her neighbours house was on fire.
“I ran over to see if he was out,” said Nicklin, “I found him and he was sitting and crying.”
Nicklin says her neighbour was emotional because he said it was the home he was raised in.
But Nicklin says over the years, she suspects he became a hoarder and many neighbours were concerned about what would happen if there was fire.
“He liked to keep everything even his garbage,” said Nicklin, “it’s terrible to say but that house should have been condemned but I guess no one wanted to say anything.”
Hoarding is a serious mental illness. It often comes to light following tragedies like this but there is something family, friends even neighbours can do.
“They can call 311,” said Marc Proulx, Public Education Coordinator with the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, “personnel are trained to ask the right questions and see what kind of issue is this, is this a concerning issue to the public and I’m sure it is.”
Once a complaint is made, a by-law officer can go to the home and force the owner to clean up even offer them help for a mental illness before it’s too late.
“He was a good neighbour,” said Nicklin, “he was friendly, he was always helpful.”
The cause of the fire is under investigation. The homeowner will stay with family and neighbours have already offered to help with furniture and clothes.