MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - A family member described the heartbreaking "illness" that led to a Mobile woman's death in a house fire over the weekend.
Mobile firefighters were called to the home in 6500 block of Lighthouse Court around 8:30 p.m. on May 19.
The victim's sister described Rebecca Romagnano, the owner of the home, as a hoarder. She felt the behavioral disorder known as hoarding was just as responsible as the fire itself for her death.
Family members started the painful process Monday of sifting through the fire damaged home on Lighthouse Court.
"She loved her stuff. I can't understand it, but she loved her stuff," the victim's sister, who didn't not what to be identified, said.
"It's an illness. Hoarding is an illness," she said.
Romagnano's sister described her as a giving and loving person.
"She cared about people. She was always trying to help somebody," she said.
But no one could help Romagnano. Romagnano, a former paralegal, wouldn't listen to pleas. Even efforts to clean out the house by family and friends failed.
A neighbor said Romagnano had recently tried to clean some of the things from around her house.
"At one time the back porch, the carport, was just full to the top. But they've cleaned that up recently, and cleaned the place up a little bit recently," neighbor Charles Hall said.
Romagnano's sister said she hasn't gone into the home in about a year but she has heard that it is "just awful" inside.
"The last time that I was in there it was probably about a year ago, and it was awful then," the sister said.
The clutter still inside the house apparently hindered the woman's efforts to get out and that of firefighters to rescue her.
"There was stacks of boxes, magazines, papers, clothing things like that," said Steve Huffman with Mobile Fire Rescue.
The sister said Romagnano developed the condition almost 30 years ago following the death of her mother.
She said, "When she was younger you could eat off of her floors. She was spotless."
The fire was caused by a pot left on the stove. The woman's dog which was in a cage also died. Her adult son managed to squeeze out through a small opening in the French doors that were also blocked by clutter.
"I'd just like for people to be more aware that this is more common than people think. I thought for a long time my sister was the only one who's a hoarder. A lot of houses are like this and you don't know if you don't go in them," she said.
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