WESTMINSTER, Colo. (KDVR) — Fire investigators executed a search warrant Tuesday afternoon at 4245 Barr Lane in Westminster.

The home belongs to 55-year-old William Prouty, a longtime hoarder, whose house caught fire Monday afternoon. Prouty wasn’t home when firefighters arrived, but neighbors had predicted his home might catch fire one day based on the cluttered conditions inside and outside of his home.

Surveillance video from neighbors showed Prouty inspecting the roof of his garage not long before smoke could be seen coming from the same area. Prouty would drive away before firefighters were called to the scene.

“It’s scary. My grandpa lives right next door and that could spread really quick if it was more windy out, and my grandpa could’ve lost his house,” Billy Schlenker said.

Years of complaints, trash hauls at hoarder’s home

Man in flourescent work vest carries debris out of a home
City cleanup crews at 4245 Barr Lane (KDVR)

Schlenker and other neighbors have complained about the hoarding conditions next door for years.

The city of Westminster hired contractors to haul away trash and junk from the front and back yards of Prouty’s house on Feb. 9.

Workers would end up removing 50,000 pounds of various items, everything from propone tanks, old furniture and a toilet to a boat, with a registration that had not been renewed in decades.

Just about a week earlier, on Feb. 1, the Problem Solvers knocked on Prouty’s door only to discover the door was partially open, revealing an inside view of junk and debris cluttered high in every direction.

It was the same view that four Westminster police officers had when they approached the door just a few minutes before the Problem Solvers did.

At the time, a city spokesman told the Problem Solvers, “The city can deem a property unsafe” if it is “determined by the health officer to be unsanitary” or if it’s “determined by the fire marshal to be a fire hazard,” but then said, “at this time … however, it does not appear the property meets the criteria above.”

“We’ve told the city of Westminster this is going to happen and unfortunately, here we are in February of 2023. It happened,” Schlenker complained.

Deadly explosion nearby was under similar circumstances

A propane tank is seen among the wreckage at 7731 N. Knox Court after a February 2022 explosion there.

In February 2022, a home just a mile and a half away at 7731 N. Knox Court blew up in a propane tank explosion. The blast killed Duane Doyle and caused massive damage to the homes on each side.

Doyle was a longtime hoarder, who had been living at 7731 N. Knox Court illegally after utilities were disconnected to the house following a fire in April 2021.

“I don’t want it (4245 Barr Lane) to become like Knox Court,” Westminster City Council Member Bruce Baker said.

The council member said his aim would be to make sure Prouty doesn’t come back to 4245 Barr Lane and try to live illegally the same way Doyle did.

A series of 911 calls obtained by the Problem Solvers showed Westminster mostly ignored Doyle’s comings and goings to the house he grew up in, despite an “uninhabitable” sticker placed on the home after it caught fire.

A city spokesman would later tell the Problem Solvers that Westminster couldn’t enforce its own trespassing ordinance against Doyle, because he and his mother had at one time legally occupied the home.

‘This is a wake-up call for the city’

Councilman Baker said he wants to make sure Westminster enforces city ordinances and doesn’t allow Prouty to exploit the same loophole.

“Last time they (city of Westminster) didn’t do that,” Baker said.

“I want to know what the city is going to do. Is this the final straw that needed to happen or are they just going to put a Band-Aid on this? This could’ve been my house,” said David O’Hara Jr, who lives next door to Prouty.

He still worries Prouty, like Duane Doyle did, may find a way to come back despite a fence the city had contractors put up Tuesday afternoon.

“This is a wake-up call for the city. I wish the last one was a wake-up,” O’Hara Jr. said.

The Problem Solvers requested an interview with both the mayor and the city manager, but a spokesperson said because of the fire investigation, neither one would consent to an interview.

The Problem Solvers also asked if investigators have been able to question Prouty about the fire at his home, but we’ve yet to receive a response from either the police or fire department.