The work to empty his father's home of items hoarded over 18 years was almost done.

"It was starting to look good," Gene O'Toole said.

As he's done frequently for the past year and a half, O'Toole had traveled Sunday from his home in Catonsville, Md., to his father's house in Shrewsbury Township to continue the cleaning process.

He was getting ready to leave when the fire he'd lit in a burn barrel spread quickly to the house at 13152 Rennoll Road.

O'Toole, 49, said he'd been trying to destroy old financial records his father had stored in the house to prevent any chance of identity theft. He'd ruined four shredders before deciding to simply burn the documents in burn barrels.

O'Toole said he was burning tax records from the 1970s in a barrel when something popped. Suddenly, the nearby ivy was aflame. The fire spread quickly to the home's front porch.

O'Toole said he reacted with the power of four fire extinguishers, but it wasn't enough. He called 911.

Soon, firefighters from all over southern York County and northern Maryland were battling the blaze. The house appeared to be a total loss.

"I guess I don't have to worry about his financial information anymore, do I?" he said as firefighters continue to douse the charred and smoking building. "If the fire had started a year and a half ago, this thing would still be rolling."

Only O'Toole was at the house when the fire started. He said his father moved to an apartment more than a year ago.


Since then, O'Toole and his brother had been clearing the home of items their father had hoarded during his 18 years in the house.

They were hoping to possibly sell the house or use it as a second home.

At the scene, O'Toole said he hadn't told his father yet about the fire.

"I told my boss I might not be in to work tomorrow," he said.

-- Reach Erin James at