NEWS
10/10/2011 02:09 EDT | Updated 12/10/2011 05:12 EST

Body Found Inside Vancouver Home Gutted By Fire

Fire officials say one person has been found dead inside a home destroyed by fire over the weekend.

The home in the 700 block of West 23rd Avenue went up in flames around 3:30 a.m. PT Sunday.

When firefighters arrived, the one-storey home was completely engulfed in flames. Officials say the home was so cluttered crews were unable to get inside to extinguish the blaze and could only pour water on the home from outside.

When they were finally able to use heavy equipment to dismantle the home and look inside, they found a victim.

Fire captain Gabe Roder said the coroner has completed an initial examination and determined the victim is a man.

He has not yet been identified, but neighbours said the homeowner's adult son had been caring for the home.

Neighbours also told CBC News the owner, Jean Chalmers, was a hoarder who now lives in a senior's home.

Luigi Fabbiano, who has lived in the neighbourhood for 18 years, said Chalmers used to own a second-hand store.

"She was a bit of a hoarder," he said. "She would go up and down the alleys and pick up stuff."

'Everything had value'

Neighbours say Chalmers's adult son was unemployed, had been sleeping in his van and had been instructed by his mother not to get rid of anything inside the home.

"Everything had value to her so she hung on to it. One day she was going to sell it," Fabbiano said.

Neighbours say the house had been a blight on the street for decades, and they reported seeing rats through the windows scurrying over mounds of clutter.

"The city had at one time dealt with a complaint or otherwise had to give them an order to clean up the outside, which was done, and made it more compatible to the neighbourhood but obviously it wasn't done inside," said neighbour Mark White.

"I'm surprised that the city let it go for as long as they did," said Stan Bodlak. "It must have been a real hazard as it was."

City releases details about home

The City of Vancouver released details about the home on Monday afternoon, saying staff responded to four complaints about the home's "untidy yard" between 1996 and 2004, and all complaints were addressed by the owner.

The city says the owner complied with all requests for maintenance over the years, including boarding up windows and securing the home's doors, and there were no bylaw infractions.

The city says it has not received any complaints about the home since September 2010 and was "not aware of anyone living in or breaking into the building."

Officials say the fire is not considered suspicious, although its cause will remain undetermined because of extensive damage from both the blaze and the home's subsequent demolition.