CLEVELAND - The Cleveland Division of Fire issued a warning about the hazards of hoarding at homes and businesses, especially when a fire breaks out at those locations.
Fire crews have dealt with hoarding issues and debris blocking critical doorways in fire calls since the beginning of the year, Cleveland Fire Public Information Officer Mike Norman told News 5.
Norman pointed to a fire this month on State Road in Cleveland — the entranceways were blocked and firefighters had to cut through a garage door just to get to the source of the flames.
"That clutter becomes fire load, it becomes fuel in the event of a fire," said Norman. "It's more dangerous, you have fall hazards, things could fall on the firefighters as they're doing their search and rescue efforts. It just slows us down as we're coming to find you."
Norman said it's critical homeowners keep all doorways free of clutter and debris, and any good fire plan should have two ways for occupants to make an escape.
Cleveland Councilman Tony Brancatelli told News 5 hoarding is a major safety issue citywide.
Brancatelli said it's important residents and family members report hoarding to the city health department or the department of building and housing if they can't get a clean-up started on their own.
"It's a huge problem, it's a huge crisis," said Brancatelli. "First and foremost it's illegal. You can't hoard, you can't block aisles, you can't block doorways. It's against our city code."
"It's a big concern for the neighbors if a fire occurs and they can't control the fire, they can't get in and rescue. It spreads throughout the neighborhood, and that's when we have even bigger problems."
Branactelli said residents caught hoarding and who won't clean up could face a first-degree misdemeanor, which could carry six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Norman said hoarding could make a difference in saving a resident from potentially deadly smoke and flames.
"Time is of the essence," said Norman. "You want to make sure that we can get in there as quickly as possible, and once we're inside the building, if we're doing our search and rescue, having a lot of clutter slows down our efforts."