Up close: More than 100 fires break out over weekend, rivaling Devil’s Night

File photo by Steve Neavling
File photo by Steve Neavling

More than 100 fires broke out over the Fourth of July weekend in Detroit as arsonists torched houses, garages, vacant stores, apartment buildings, playscapes and even a clothing donation box.

The three-day weekend rivaled last year’s Devil’s Night, a 40-year Detroit tradition of setting houses ablaze, when about 110 fires were recorded over a three-day period ending on Halloween.

One firefighter was injured at a house fire at 3 a.m. Sunday.

RELATED: Wayward firework kills Detroiter.

The fires posed a significant challenge to a city dangerously short on firefighters and equipment. Nearly all of the fire department’s aerial and tower trucks – vital to fighting big fires – are out of service.

Between Friday and Sunday, fires damaged or destroyed:

  • 6 apartment buildings
  • 55 houses
  • 8 commercial buildings
  • 10 cars
  • 15 Dumpsters
  • 2 playscapes
  • 13 piles of rubbish
  • 1 donation box

The first fire broke out at 12:12 a.m. Friday in an abandoned house on the 5000 block of Chopin and spread to another vacant home. At a house fire three hours later, Ladder 22 broke down at the scene. And as the sun began to rise Friday, a suspicious fire ripped through three houses on the west side.

The pace of fires continued through Sunday, exhausting firefighters and further straining the deteriorating fleet of trucks and engines that operate in spite of serious malfunctions.

The fires peaked between 10 p.m. Friday and 2 a.m. Saturday, when more than 25 blazes broke out. During that time, the department ran out of squad trucks, which are critical to rescue operations. Response times reached more than 15 minutes in some cases because closer companies were at other fires.

City officials are bracing for a busy summer as brazen arsonists continue to burn down vacant homes and abandoned buildings at an alarming rate. The motives run the spectrum – collecting insurance money, thrill-seeking, removing blight.

Mayor Mike Duggan hopes to soon add investigators to the city’s depleted arson unit, but it’s unclear when the fire department will have enough money for its rapidly declining fleet.


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.

  • bebow

    The solution is aggressive demolition. Many birds can be hit with that one stone.

  • Aanna1123

    What the flip is wrong with you people? There are many more that are fighting to get the city cleaned up and your nasty ignorant ass comes thru and does this???? I hope when you are caught that you have to pay for the firefighters time, the water, the medical bills of anyone injured, the property value of what you trashed and your OWN housing in prison! You are a definite disappointment to your mother!

    • Gunnut2600

      Do you think the audience of this website is made up of Detroit based pyromaniacs?

      • Aanna1123

        I think the folks on this site are tired of the B.S. from the ignorant people! So sad you’re not!

        • Gunnut2600

          I am sick of it as well. I am just wondering why you made your post in a manner in which it implies that the people who read this site are the ones setting the fires.

          I don’t think motor city muckraker readers and the criminals destroying this city through arson have a lot of overlap.

          • Aanna1123

            REALLY???? So, you think that those who are setting the fires can’t read now? And, so what if I just wanted to let off steam? Who the hell are you to put down another persons comments? Must be the bully in you thinking you’re so superior! Bug off!!!

          • Gunnut2600

            You must be a lot of fun in person.

          • Aanna1123

            I don’t associate with smart aleck slouches!

          • Gunnut2600

            I’m afraid I can’t help picturing a cat lady screaming at anyone who so much as walk nears her house…