Explosion, fire at hoarder's home a challenge for firefighters

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by Catherine Holland

Video report by Javier Soto

Posted on May 15, 2013 at 6:39 AM

Updated Friday, May 17 at 11:09 AM

Map: Near Loop 101 & Guadalupe

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MESA, Ariz. -- Hoarding made a dangerous situation even worse for firefighters in Mesa Wednesday morning.

Some kind of explosion touched off an intense fire at a house in the neighborhood southeast of Loop 101 and Guadalupe Road at about 5 a.m.

A friend of the homeowner was staying at the house in exchange for cleaning up the colossal mess. He was there when the fire started, but the homeowner, who reportedly has been cited by the city, was nowhere to be found.

3TV viewer Andria Orlowski, who lives in the neighborhood, snapped photos of the huge wall of flames and a massive plume of thick black smoke.

"There had been like an explosion so it started really fast," Orlowski said. "We ran outside and there were flames in the backyard and the back of the house. ... It was going up really quickly, and the wind was blowing and we were worried about other houses in the neighborhood."

Because there was so much fuel feeding the fast-moving fire, firefighters went defensive almost immediately, concentrating on containing the massive flames to the one home. They were able to keep the fire from spreading.

Aerial video from the scene showed a section of the roof that had collapsed, as well as white smoke continued to billow from the house more than 90 minutes after the initial call.

Firefighters expected to remain on the scene throughout the morning to keep an eye on potential hot spots.

The man who was inside the house when the fire started escaped with only minor injuries.

The fire destroyed the house.

It's early in the investigation, so the official cause of the fire has yet to be determined, but the man who was staying at the home told firefighters he had fallen asleep while smoking. Investigators suspect a stored propane tank might have been source of the explosion.

Incidents of hoarding have been on the rise in recent years.

The Arizona Hoarding Task Force was formed in 2010 to help deal with the ever-increasing problem by providing "a statewide resource for those individuals and communities affected by hoarding while keeping the health, safety and dignity of the individual a priority."

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