Despite chaotic 24-hour period, Mayor Duggan calls Angels’ Night ‘quiet’

By Steve Neavling
By Steve Neavling

Nearly 40 fires – most of them suspected arsons – broke out in houses, apartments and garages between Thursday and Friday morning in Detroit. Three fire trucks broke down at fire scenes. And the manpower shortage prevented some firefighters from getting the help they needed.

But Mayor Mike Duggan on Friday morning described Angels’ Night as “quiet” in a press release that some news agencies are running without questioning how nearly 40 fires, an injured firefighter and an ailing fleet of rigs constitute anything remotely close to quiet.

Fire Capt. Gerod Funderburg told the Free Press it “was an average night” for a weekday.

Let’s look at this closer. The city has averaged between 10 and 12 structure fires a day this year, according to fire data. In just three hours Thursday night, 15 structures burned, and the fire department ran out of manpower and couldn’t send enough firefighters to the scenes of severe blazes.

Three of those fires were so intense that they consumed seven vacant houses, some of them bordered by occupied homes.

During that time, a fire engine (#9) broke down at the scene of two vacant house fires at Mt. Elliot and E. Warren and couldn’t pump water. Firefighters nearly lost control of the blaze, which came dangerously close to an occupied home. The fire department continued to send the engine to fires until it malfunctioned at a rekindled house blaze this morning.

Fire tore through two houses at Mt. Elliot and E. Warren. Photo by Matt Sukkar
Fire tore through two houses at Mt. Elliot and E. Warren. Photo by Matt Sukkar

In the first 30 hours of Angels’ Night, 37 fires broke out in houses, apartments and garages.

Check out our map and live blog of the Angels’ Night fires

When asked why the mayor described Angels’ Night as “quiet,” his spokesman John Roach conceded there were “significant fires.”

“Quiet was compared to what has been seen overall in years past, not to an average day in the city,” Roach told me.

But even then, the city is using an unusual metric to define “quiet.”

Since 2011, the city has averaged 94 fires during the three-day Angels’ Night period. The city is on pace for 94 fires again, only with less manpower and an older, ailing fleet of rigs.

When I explained that the city was still on pace for as many fires as the last three years, Roach responded: “We are looking at the longer trend.”

In that way, the city has seen a dramatic reduction since its peak of 810 fires in 1984. There were 354 fires in 1994, and 169 in 1994 during Angels’ Night, according to the city.

But quiet?

A meadow is quiet. A sleeping puppy is quiet. Three dozen fires in 30 hours is anything but.

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.

  • SnowStormsinDetroit

    Sorry but if a child screamed at the top of their lungs 810 times one night, 354 times another night and 169 times again a third night.

    The night they only screamed 37 times would seem non-eventful and pleasantly serene.

    • muckraker_steve

      “Quiet” is not a relative word. The number of fires have been stagnant for four years. That’s a fairer comparison. We have much fewer people in Detroit than those years as well. And there are fewer firefighters than ever before to handle the fires.

      • SnowStormsinDetroit

        Hmmmmm. I’m thinkn when oceans are considered quiet after major hurricanes, and engines are considered quiet despite being able to hear them hum that quiet is most certainly a relative term. A quiet night in the E.R. could mean only 4 gunshot victims came thru instead of 25.

        Others use quiet to mean uneventful. But uneventful as in nothing out of the ordinary. So nothing different than the usual amount of fires. Quiet has several definitions/uses.

        But all an all I’m with ya. Duggan was spinning.

        • muckraker_steve

          I just thought “quiet” was a weird choice. But I totally get what you’re saying. Relative to the past, there hasn’t been as much going on. Just thought they could have come up with a better word.

          Thanks for the post.

          • SnowStormsinDetroit

            Agreed 100%

  • marco baroli

    Interesting story re. Engine No. 9. Excellent reporting and kudos for your participation in the MT pieces.

    • muckraker_steve

      Thank you, Marco. Thanks for reading and your support.

  • bebow

    Everyone is expected to sing along with New Detroit’s tune. Arson and other crimes are down. La-La-La. Big smiles now.