muckraker report

Video: Arsonists wreaked havoc Monday night as understaffed Detroit Fire Department struggles to keep pace

Double Arson_2247Chris Hill was sitting on his friend’s porch Monday evening when he heard a woman scream.

“I looked back and there was black smoke everywhere,” the father of two said. “Next thing I knew, there was another fire right down the road. I grabbed my kids. I didn’t know what to do.”

Investigators believe someone intentionally set fire to an abandoned apartment building on the east side near Schoenherr at 6:15 p.m. and minutes later sparked a blaze at a nearby house. Both structures were engulfed when firefighters arrived.

The fire department is so understaffed that the entire east side was without fire protection for about two hours while about 18 companies battled the fires.

double arson_2232And that was just the beginning in a city where officials are considering more cuts to the fire department.

Over the next five hours, at least 13 houses caught fire, and most were suspected arsons.

When a vacant commercial building began to crumble and spill onto West Grand River at 11 p.m., firefighters placed orange cones around the debris. City crews never responded because they didn’t have the equipment to move the bricks, which were still scattered across the street this morning.

The fire department is reaching a crisis after Mayor Dave Bing closed fire stations last year and left the city with fewer firefighters than it has had in decades. In the meantime, the arson rate is reaching alarming levels.

Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr said he has not yet met with fire officials.

Got tips or suggestions? Contact Steve at 

Steve Neavling, who lives on the city’s east side, is an investigative journalist, a freelance reporter for Reuters and former city hall reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Neavling explores corruption, Detroit’s unsung heroes and the underbelly of an oft-misunderstood city.

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for many more daily updates, investigations, photos and videos of the Motor City. 

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

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  • info bamn

    Why not call on the infallible, problem solving genius, of the utopian genius and wizardry of BAMN and the RWL.
    They have been malignantly tick dug into Detwat for countless decades.

  • Bill

    Why doesn’t Detroit Fire Dept. call in cities like Hamtramck & Highland Park for Mutual Aid, like the agreement they have with those cities for help ? Are they too proud to ask for outside help ? While Detroit burns ?

    • matt

      beause of the man power that those cities don’t have with all the cut backs to all departments mutual aid is starting to diminish. If they call in those cities and those cities get a call they will not be able to respond to it.

    • Steve Neavling

      Bill, the fire department’s budget was cut 20%, and it may get cut again. The city browns out (temporarily closes) 10-12 companies a day, so there’s no way they’d be able to afford mutual aid.

    • Dave

      If these communities have a mutual aid agreement(which they do) how would it cost any money? Simple answer is….it wouldn’t cost a dime to Detroit. Secondly Hamtramck and Highland Park already use each other for mutual aid and it seems to work. What difference would it make if either of those communites sent a rig to help Detroit? For example if Detroit had a fire near Highland Park Highland Park could send a crew and then Hamtramck could send a crew to Highland Park if needed or vise versa. To take it a step further if those communities truly don’t have the resources why aren’t places like Warren and Southfield called? Those are “bigger departments” which I’m sure would be more than willing to send manpower and rigs for aid. Not too long ago the fire around 7 or 8 mile around evergreen where it took the first arriving company something like 22 minutes to get on scene or 17 miles or something to that effect I’m sure Southfield could of had a rig on scene much quicker and probably would have saved the persons house. Everywhere else in the coutry mutual aid is used frequently and works just fine but here it seems to be a dead issue for whatever reason. Just doesn’t make much sense to me I guess.

  • Pingback: Video: Arsonists wreaked havoc last night as understaffed Detroit Fire Department struggles to keep. | The Detroit Environment()

  • bebow

    Widespread demolition would solve a multitude of problems. No one seems willing to recognize this situation as an undeclared state of emergency. Yet.

    • SFF Christopher Shinneman Engine 52

      Unfortunately 80,000 vacant and no money!

    • Matt

      It also doesn’t help that we have sketchy demolition crews. For some reason some of the homes they are about to take down always catch fire right before hand. How convenient it is that now it will cost them less money to tear this house down.

  • Bob

    I was standing at the corner of Woodward and Jefferson and swore I heard someone playing a fiddle.

  • Darryl

    We must fight fires to nearby exposures and limit hazardous waste. The answer is simple HIRE MORE FIREFIGHTERS

  • Allan Hill

    Steve one thing that would help ,maybe? would be to raise the amount of rewards for turning in these cowards , and don’t call them anything else .

  • Eric

    If a house is foreclosed or county-owned, why fight the fire?

    • Larry Lyle

      ERIC !! The other homes,or children,or loss of vision from the smoke,or congestion from gawkers,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    • Bjorn

      If that was your property or your home next door or nearby, you would not feel that way at all.