Melbourne has been the scene of another dangerous hoarding fire. The Edithvale Fire Brigade (CFA) posted the following information on their Facebook page on February 5, 2020:
(To read the full post and comments go to https://www.facebook.com/pg/EdithvaleFireBrigadecfa/posts/)
Just after 9pm last night the brigade was paged to a house fire in Tarella Road, Chelsea. Upon arrival within 3 minutes of receiving the call the house was totally involved and spreading to the properties on either side. Incident Controller Graham Fountain assessed the scene and firefighters went to work to protect the exposures with both neighbouring houses starting to catch fire. Whilst undertaking the initial attack to protect the neighbouring properties it became apparent from reports by neighbours and the intensity of the fire that this was not a normal house fire situation with significant fuel loads. With the neighbours reporting the occupant was still inside the crews were also confronted with gas cylinders exploding and toxic smoke blanketing the area. The owner then arrived and confirmed there was a significant amount of chemicals, gas cylinders, live ammunition, paints, tyres and a car workshop on site. Upon receiving this advice a specialist hazardous material response unit, breathing apparatus support, an aerial appliance from the MFB (Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade), to attack the fire from above, and additional firefighting appliances were called.
Incident Controller Graham Fountain said, “this was no normal fire and resembled an industrial complex within a residential block with clear hoarding behaviour, making access to the property extremely difficult and dangerous and requiring the extensive use of breathing apparatus and other specialist equipment, including air monitoring and foam. The great teamwork involving volunteers and career staff working seamlessly throughout this extremely difficult firefight resulted in minimal damage to the neighbouring properties, no injuries and the fire being declared under control within 3 hours.”
Over twelve firefighting appliances and 50 firefighters attended the scene with the support of SES Chelsea Unit, Ambulance Victoria and Victoria Police.
Comments made by the public on the Facebook page indicated that neighbours and the local council were aware of the hoarding situation at this property, but no effective action had been taken. Many raised questions about the council’s rights and responsibilities in this situation.
The reality is that while hoarding can be dangerous and presents significant risks to the householder and the wider community, in Australia it is not illegal and there is no clear legal path to follow in order to facilitate an intervention.
If the property is occupied by a tenant who is hoarding, a landlord may petition the court to evict a tenant when excessive possessions or unsanitary conditions violate a lease.
Protective services workers may seek guardianship of children, disabled or older adults when they determine that hoarding constitutes neglect or abuse of these individuals.
Members of the public health or fire department may appear before a judge for a court order to bring a property in compliance with health and safety codes, or in extreme cases to condemn the property.
Animal welfare workers may petition the court to remove abused or neglected animals from their owner.
At a local level, councils can mandate a clean-out at the rate-payer’s expense. Council laws, understanding of hoarding, and approaches to dealing with complaints about hoarding, vary widely across Australia. As a resident it is your right to advise the council of a concern and they have a legal responsibility to investigate your complaint.
In Victorian Metro areas you can also flag the hoarding property using the MFB Hoarding Notification System which places a discreet electronic alert on the property. In the event of a fire the alert activates and notifies responding firefighters that the property they have been dispatched to has hoarding/high fuel load. The aim is to increase firefighter’s preparedness and community safety.
The worst thing you can do is turn a blind eye to an obvious problem. Hoarding is a complex issue and can be difficult to resolve but there are many things that councils, organisations and individuals can do to reduce harm and help everyone to live more safely and comfortably.
For more information about hoarding and fire risk visit the MFB website at http://www.mfb.vic.gov.au/Community/Home-Safety/Hoarding.html or contact us for a copy of the Hoarding Notification Information Pack and other information about helping someone who is hoarding.