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Elderly woman rescued from “hoarder house” after it catches fire

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Hoarding almost cost an 84-year-old Milwaukee woman her life -- according to firefighters. Fire broke out at a home near 1st and Lloyd overnight Thursday, April 3rd.

Upon their arrival at the scene, they rescued the woman from the home. She was taken to the hospital. Officials say she had soot in her lungs, but was talking.

Piles of furniture and personal belongings are strewn outside the home on 1st and Lloyd.

"Engine 21's officer took it by the reins and he let everybody know on the radio, right away -- 'this is a hoarder house. We are having problems with progress.' They found fire coming out of the front window on the first floor," Milwaukee Fire Dept. Deputy Chief Aaron Lipski said.

In their attempt to rescue the elderly woman, firefighters were forced to clear a path inside the home.

"It was so cluttered in order to access some of the hidden areas of the fire, we had to create our own door to the front of the building," Lipski said.

Lipski says the amount of clutter in the home inhibited fire crews.

"The second the fire starts, the smoke starts to pollute the house. Vision goes to zero. Ability to breathe is zero. In high heat conditions, with zero visibility and now with reduced mobility because they were cramped in these tiny little hallways with stored goods -- if that falls down behind you, you are stuck and that`s a bad position to be in inside of a burning building," Lipski said.

Fire officials say the home had no working smoke detectors.

Hazel Hutchins is a neighbor who says her friend is fortunate to be alive.

"I was devastated. She was lucky to get out. She had a lot of stuff in there. Her son cleared it out one time -- but she got it junked up again," Hutchins said.

Due to the swift actions of fire crews, this incident had an outcome that defied the odds.

"It`s a happy ending, because by design -- probably not meant to be happy. All the card were stacked against everybody and everybody pulled through," Lipski said.

The home's owner has had multiple nuisance violations on the home -- dating back to 2009.

Right now, there is an order to condemn the home.

Fire officials say they have seen an uptick in cases like this, and want this to be a wake up call to anyone living in similar conditions or who may know someone who is. Officials say it is important to minimize the clutter -- as in situations like this, it can be deadly.