Man dies in house fire; search hampered by household clutter, IFD says

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- Indianapolis Fire Department (IFD) investigators are seeking the cause of a fatal fire in the 2800 block of South Illinois Street Tuesday morning.

The victim has been identified as 62-year-old George Arndt III.

It was shortly after midnight when crews arrived to find the two-story home engulfed in flames.

“I grabbed a four-by-four post that he had laying around and used it like a battering ram trying to knock the backdoor open to get in but the smoke just came out and the fire popped out the side windows,” said neighbor Don Dearth. “Before they went in I told them that he was a hoarder, there was a lot of stuff. He was probably in the room that was burning because his bedroom was unusable.”

IFD crews reported finding debris three-feet thick throughout the first floor of the house, hampering their ability to gain access inside.

Arndt’s body was found on the second attempt.

“In this particular case it was almost impossible to make entry and for the gentleman to get out,” said IFD Battalion Chief Rita Reith.

Dearth had been in Arndt’s house before.

“There was a lot of stuff in there and they were having to walk around and over and I’m sure they had a hard time going about it,” said Dearth. “He just kept lots of stuff. Recyclables. Paper. Plastic. Newspapers and magazines and he had the intent to recycle them but he just never got around to do it.”

Jim Richter, Manager of Residential Service at Eskenazi Health, said the items being stored need only have intrinsic value for the owner.

“Someone who is a hoarder would be an individual that might save recyclables or someone who compulsively goes out and shops for other individuals, it might even be animals,” he said. “It goes back to what is the meaning of the item to the individual person.”

Richter said hoarding can become a debilitating issue if the practice puts the person’s safety or wellbeing at risk.

For help call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-HELP or click here.

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