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Fire erupts in 92-year-old pack rat’s Woodhaven home

A neighbor said he called the Fire Department after his nephew and sister-in-law saw smoke coming out of the first-floor apartment where the elderly man lived as the landlord of the building at 87-22 87th Street. The fire, the cause of which is under investigation, was put out about 15 minutes after fire engines arrived around 11 a.m. and the victim was treated for smoke inhalation, a fire official said.A smoldering mattress surrounded by charred debris was strewn on the sidewalk outside the apartment. Inside, random items from clothes to trash bags to magazines to upturned chairs completely covered the floor and rode up the walls.The scene was reminiscent of the Harlem house where the reclusive Collyer brothers were found dead in 1947. Langley Collyer allegedly died when a huge pile of newspapers and tin boxes toppled over onto him. His brother, Homer, who was blind and crippled with rheumatism, reportedly died of starvation days later since his brother was no longer there to care for him.The 136 tons of rubbish found in the three-story brownstone included 14 grand pianos, human medical specimens preserved in glass jars, the chassis of a Model-T Ford, thousands of medical and engineering books, an armory of weapons and an X-ray machine. The late pack-rat brothers became models for those people who incessantly hoard belongings out of fear of throwing anything away.The landlord's niece, who was on her way to visit him when she saw the fire trucks at the scene, said Monday her uncle was in stable condition. Neighbors could not understand how the aging man lived in such conditions."I've told him a couple times he should move in with family members, that he couldn't take care of himself," said Jose Gomez, the building next door's landlord.Gomez and others commented on the bad odor that permeated from the apartment."In the summer when the wind blows the stench is awful," Gomez said.Badiul Alam, whose uncle, Shammsul, called the Fire Department after his second-floor family members noticed the smoke thickening, said he was "amazed" at the clutter and "couldn't imagine where (the man) even slept."Two insurance adjusters waiting outside the apartment for the residence's insurance holder to arrive said they came across Collyer-types frequently when investigating damage from fires, since the quantity of items lying around were often flammable. Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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