Jan 6, 2011 10:48 PM by Ariel Wesler

Hoarding poses challenges for rescuers in fatal fire

A mobile home catches fire in Lompoc, killing a 20-year-old man and sending two others to the hospital.

Lompoc fire has identified the man as Nicholas Perez of Lompoc. An electrical problem started the fire around 4:30 this morning at the Mountain View Mobile Home Park in the 700 block of East Pine Street.

Lompoc firefighters say 65-year-old Donna Van Wagenen woke up to the smell of smoke inside her mobile home. Neighbors saw it.

"White smoke was billowing back," said Michael Burke, who lived a couple doors down.

Van Wagenen quickly alerted her 19-year-old granddaughter Alicia, and her granddaughter's 20-year-old friend Nicholas Perez. Then she went outside. Firefighters say the other two started to leave, but never made it out and neither did any of the pets.

"We don't know if they were looking for animals or forgot something or got confused in the smoke," said Lompoc Battalion Chief Stan Hart.

When fire crews tried to get inside to make the rescue, they were blocked by boxes.

"Everything she collected. It was stacked from floor to ceiling," Hart said.

Firefighters spent the morning clearing debris out of the house. They say there was so much stuff inside, it blocked entry ways and made fighting this fire extremely difficult.

Neighbors who knew Van Wagenen said she was a hoarder.

"Massive amounts of paper stuff and books. I can see how it would have gone up really fast," Burke said.

Spectators came by all morning. Many couldn't believe their eyes. Jade Jarman is one of Alicia's close friends.

"I just had to come over and see if it was true. It's just shocking," Jarman said.

Investigators say the fire started in the living room and was caused by some kind of electrical failure.

Fire officials say Alicia Van Wagenen is in critical condition at a Los Angeles burn center.

According to firefighters, flames tend to spread quickly in lightweight mobile home. They say because the rescue took so long, the house suffered extensive damage.

This is not the first fatal fire at the mobile home park. In October 2009, another woman died when she was trapped inside her home by all the clutter.


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