PORTLAND -- Portland firefighters are warning residents about the dangers of living in cluttered homes.

Hoarding affects between two and five percent of the American population, and there are likely up to 38,000 people affected in Multnomah County alone.

Portland firefighters told KGW they are called to at least a dozen fires each year where they encounter hoarding conditions. One such fire killed a man on Thursday.

Fire investigators are still trying to determine the circumstances of the man s death, and whether all of his belongings kept him from escaping.

Background: Man dies in fire in cluttered Portland house

They ran into extreme clutter that made it nearly impossible to get more than 3 feet inside the home, said Portland Fire & Rescue Lt. Rich Chatman.

Chatman said addressing the issue is one of the department's top priorities and it's working with other agencies to figure out how to best identify cluttered homes and get help for people who struggle with hoarding.

Cities across the U.S. are confronting the issue in different ways. For example, Houston police may even start issuing fines to people whose clutter puts others at risk.

That approach likely wouldn't work in Portland, city commissioner Dan Saltzman told KGW.

We re not interested in penalizing hoarders, he said. We re interested in getting them help.

Related (2012): Hoarded items bury victim in deadly house fire

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