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.

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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.

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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.