Woman's Death Sparks Hoarder's Desire to Change

"I haven't been in my kitchen in 15 months. There's a little path to go to my bed, and that's about it," she said.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBC4 was there as one Orange County woman got a helping hand from volunteers who spend their time clearing out dangerous piles of debris inside the homes of so-called "hoarders." Hetty Chang reports for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014.

    A woman, referred to only as Alice, said she's always been a collector of items big and small.

    In her living room, where she spends most of her time on her recliner, is where she keeps all of her "stuff." But in 10 years, she hasn't thrown any of it away.

    Her recliner is one of the areas she can actually access.

    "I haven't been in my kitchen in 15 months. There's a little path to go to my bed, and that's about it," she said.

    "You're the first people in here in actually about 11 years," she told NBC4 on Thursday.

    Alice is a hoarder who said her biggest fear came true Tuesday when firefighters said packrat conditions hampered their efforts in fighting a fatal house fire in Costa Mesa.

    It took firefighters nearly 30 minutes to find the homeowner's body, which was found underneath piles of debris.

    "The idea of dying in here and not being found for the days? It's horrifying," said Alice, who thought of her own situation when hearing of the house fire.

    "My neighbors both have wooden mobile homes, and if I had a fire here I'm sure they'd both catch fire, too," she said. "That's pretty shameful, too, to realize you're a risk to your neighbors."

    Alice got help through Hoarders.com, and on Thursday, they began the two-day process of cleaning up piles of boxes, clothing and trash which has piled up in her 800-square-foot mobile home for more than a decade.

    "We're going to uncover this couch," said Cory Chalmers of Hoarders.com. "Really, by the end of the day, this whole area should be all cleaned up, no more living in danger."

    Chalmers, a retired fire captain, is now part of a growing group of resources for hoarders and those who live near them.

    "There is help out there. You don't have to live like this," he said. "You don't have to die like this."

    Neighbors concerned about hoarders should call the fire department and their city's code enforcement department to alert them of the issue, fire officials said.

    Chalmers said the main goal of groups like Hoarders.com goes beyond enforcement.

    "The city's code enforcement and adult protective services might come out -- those are two agencies that might come out and do the investigation," he said. "But they might also redtag the house and evict them, so is homeless really better than having a roof over their head? The plan is really to find resources to regain control of their life and let them stay in their home."

    Alice is taking that first step.

    "As hard as it is in some ways to agree to do this," she said, "God, just help it to help one other person, and I'll be happy."

    Additional information can also be found on the Orange County Task Force on Hoarding website.

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