Unattended grill sparks southeast Houston house fire

HOUSTON - A fire broke out at a southeast Houston home on Wednesday, and city officials said they have a long history of problems with the homeowner.

Houston firefighters battled flames at a home in the 7000 block of Winfree near Eppes about 9:40 a.m.

Investigators said the homeowner, George Sterling, was cooking breakfast on a grill in the back yard. He left the grill unattended and a fire started.

Firefighters said the home is filled with several feet of possessions, including a lot of metal. Firefighters said they were having trouble moving around the home because the metal is extremely hot.

"The person who lives here had been collecting artifacts for 25 to 30 years," said Jay Evans of the Houston Fire Department. "We were not even able to get into the back yard. When you have collected things for 25 to 30 years and become in the hoarder class, there's no room ... pathways to move around."

Crews said they expected to be at the home for several hours to make sure there aren't any hot spots.

The city of Houston's Neighborhood Protection Department said it has had a long history with Sterling. The department said it has made hundreds of site visits dating back to March 1993 because of complaints of trash, nuisances, dangerous buildings, abandoned motor vehicles and animal feces.

City officials said "countless" court citations have been issued against Sterling. Officials said he's paid some of them and served jail time for not paying others.

The city said it has abated the location of trash and nuisances in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012. The average cost of the abatements was $20,000.

City officials said the property was in violation at the time of Wednesday's fire. The violations were for trash, general nuisances and inoperable motor vehicles, officials said.

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