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Piles of debris hinder firefighters access to burning home

Sat., Feb. 26, 2011, midnight

The Spokane Valley Fire Department responded to a house fire with a twist on Feb. 17.

Firefighters responded to a house in the 13200 block of East 24th Avenue at 5:51 p.m. that Assistant Fire Marshal Bill Clifford compared to an episode of the television show “Hoarders” about people who are unable to get rid of any belongings.

“This was worse than that (show),” Clifford said. “It’s pretty bad.”

Firefighters had problems from the beginning. “They had a hard time accessing the inside of the house,” Clifford said. “The front door could only be pushed in about a foot.”

Instead firefighters went in the back door, which wasn’t much better, Clifford said. They found a living room fire that had spread to the walls and ceiling, but thankfully not to the piles of debris. “It was shoulder height or higher all the way around,” he said.

After the fire was out, crews had to haul charred debris out of the house to make sure all the embers were out and the fire wouldn’t relight. “We were there quite some time,” he said.

It appears that the likely culprit is one of several space heaters the homeowner was using to heat the home, Clifford said. There was no furnace or heating system in use. “It was too much of a hazard for investigators to go in,” he said.

The damage is estimated at $160,000. The homeowner did not have insurance, Clifford said.

Firefighters also responded to a clothes dryer fire, a kitchen fire and a chimney fire that was reported late on Feb. 22 in the 700 block of South Felts Road. “They overloaded the fireplace, basically,” Clifford said. The fireplace was old and sparks escaped through cracks in the chimney mortar, setting the roof on fire and causing $15,000 in damage.

The department also responded to several trash fires during the week. “People are burning construction debris or garbage, which is illegal,” he said. People can be fined for the air pollution caused by such fires.

There were two vehicle fires, one reported by Clifford himself as he drove north on Argonne Road in Millwood. He spotted a disabled semi with a double trailer. “The rear set of brakes on his double trailer were on fire,” he said.

The second vehicle fire on Feb. 22, in the 15000 block of East Euclid Avenue, sent the driver to the hospital with smoke inhalation after something in the cab caught on fire, Clifford said.

The calls the week of Feb. 17-23 totaled 235, and 187 of them were for EMS response. Eighteen of those calls were for vehicle accidents, eight of which were reported during the snowstorm on Wednesday.

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