TEMPE, Ariz. -- A house fire in March turned more dangerous than it should have been because the homeowners were hoarders. The contents inside the home ignited an explosion that injured two firefighters.
Hoarding is becoming more and more of a problem in Arizona. Last summer, the Arizona Hoarding Task Force was formed to handle the trend. As a crisis intervention specialist with the Scottsdale Police Department, nothing shocks Anthony Pagliuca.
“We've had people that are relegated to a 1,500-square-foot home that are in one back room, that are stuck in there, and that food is being passed through a window," Pagliuca said.
While some reality shows have created awareness about the problem, Pagliuca said they are far from any “reality” he’s seen.
"I think that when you watch it on television it might be more entertainment value, but when you're there and you're seeing the people involved, it's pretty sad because you know there is a person who has been living like this," he said.
Phoenix resident Ellen, who didn't want to reveal her identity, said her sister has been hoarding for decades.
"She sort of justifies it by thinking, if somebody needs something she can give it to them, she can help them," Ellen explained.
Just like the couple who were hoarding created an explosive situation for Tempe firefighters, Ellen realizes her sister is also putting her life in danger.
“I don't think she's in a safe environment," Ellen said. "She would disagree, she would not see it, she does not think there's anything wrong with her.”
Dvora Entin is a therapist with the Jewish Family and Children’s Service.
“They're really almost out of touch with how severe the situation is around them," Entin said. "We see a lot of issues of trauma where there was some kind of instigating trauma that happened to the individual that they became a hoarder.”
Entin warns, simply getting rid of the clutter won’t solve the problem.
"The most important thing to remember is we can't fix the situation by just mandating that that house get cleaned," Entin said.
Currently, hoarding is listed as a subcategory of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Entin believes it should be classified as its own mental illness.
"If somebody is a hoarder, they tend to have other family members who are hoarders as well," Entin said. "So we're not really there yet to understand the genetic component of it. We're just beginning to scratch the surface of understanding what is hoarding."