A St. Paul woman died in a fire early Sunday, the victim of a fierce blaze that was made more dangerous by personal belongings stacked and packed inside her modest house on Rose Avenue.
Renee B. Tollas, 63, was the owner of the house on the 70 block of Rose Avenue E., north of the State Capitol, said St. Paul Fire Marshal Steve Zaccard.
The house was "really a blaze," Zaccard said, and it was full of personal items that made searching for Tollas and extinguishing the fire difficult.
Firefighters discovered personal items packed to a height of about 4 feet in the house, he said.
"She had a lot of personal property — some would call that hoarding — which made it more likely to have a fire because of all the combustible materials," Zaccard said. "And it makes it more difficult to escape the fire, which may have been the case here."
After firefighters arrived on the scene early Sunday morning, they located Tollas, who lived alone, inside a bathtub toward the back of the single-story house.
"They had to extricate her through the bathroom window," Zaccard said.
Tollas was treated at the scene and transferred to the hospital, where she died, he said.
The fire started in the living room and spread to Tollas' attic, but firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze before it made it to the roof.
The fire was so hot it melted the neighbor's window blinds, Zaccard said.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, and not considered suspicious.
A dog alerted neighbors before firefighters were on the scene, however, the "fire had a real big head start … by then it was already too late for her."
On average, St. Paul firefighters extinguish fires in about one cluttered home a year, Zaccard said.
Hoarding is not something residents can fix on their own, he said. "They need help. For various reasons, they can't part with materials, contents, property.
"You are also more likely to have a fire when you have that amount of contents in a house," he said.
Neighbors, who didn't know her name, told fire officials that the woman rarely came outside but that she did have family members who would often visit.
By midafternoon Sunday, windows and doors were boarded up, while clothing, stuffed animals and other contents of the home covered much of the front lawn.
Zaccard said fire officials had to empty the living room to find "hot spots" and continue their investigation.
The city will clean up the lawn Monday, he added.
"Right now it's pretty disturbing to see all of that," Zaccard said.
Tollas is the second fire fatality in St. Paul this year.