The steady declines of arsons during Detroit’s notorious Angels’ Night took an ugly reversal after the understaffed fire department became inundated with bold arsons that claimed two lives this morning, injured two firefighters the night before and destroyed more than 90 homes over the three-day period.
One of the last arsons came at 4:02 a.m. today when investigators believe someone chucked a firebomb at a house at 20185 Spencer near Van Dyke and Outer Drive. A mother and her teenage son were killed, according to authorities.
One of the closest companies – Squad 3 – couldn’t respond because it had lost power.
The death capped off a busy, dangerous tradition that officials say runs from Oct. 29-31.
The original Angels’ Night was called Devil’s Night until 1995 and occurred on the eve of Halloween, when a majority of the arsons still occur.
Between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Oct. 30 this year, we recorded 36 dwelling fires that consumed nearly 50 homes, apartments and businesses. The worst came shortly after 10 p.m. when an arsonist set fire to two houses a block away from each other near Lillibridge and Canfield.
By the time the fires were extinguished, five or six homes were destroyed. One firefighter was injured.
In the next hour, nine fires in separate locations were burning throughout the city.
Authorities from ATF and ICE were on the scene, and a helicopter buzzed overhead. It was a rare site because firefighters rarely can get police to respond to fires.
Perhaps most eye-opening wasn’t the number of fires but the fallouts from budget cuts. A hiring freeze and layoffs have left the fire department with a diminishing, aging crew of firefighters. The rigs often break down, and the replacements are antiquated and unpredictable.
Early this morning, Engine 40 overheated while at a fire. Power went out at the stations for both Engine 44 and Ladder 3.
The number of fire companies available also has been reduced by about 20%, causing longer response times and more fatigued firefighters, who also took a 10% pay cut and now are in line for losing many of their promised pension benefits because of the city’s financial crisis.
Although the city put more firefighters on the ground for Angels’ Night, there still wasn’t enough personnel to respond promptly. In some cases, it took firefighters nearly 20 minutes to reach a fire because their station was so far away from the blaze.
Firefighters also were hampered by nonworking fire hydrants, a growing problem in the city as more employees are cut to deal with budget problems.
Fire Commissioner Don Austin is expected to hold a press conference today about Angels’ Night. Stay tuned for updates.
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.