We’re tracking every fire in Detroit in 2015 to provide unflinching look at crisis

W. Chicago & W. Grand River_1252
Steve Neavling/MCM

The Detroit Fire Department is in the midst of a crisis.

The city is sending an increasing number of malfunctioning rigs to fires that are ravaging neighborhoods, claiming lives and driving out residents. In just the past two months, an alarming 48 fire trucks and engines broke down while responding to or fighting fires, according to dispatch reports.

When firefighters make it to the scene, they’re often impeded by broken fire hydrants and the lack of basic equipment like saws and two-way radios. And the city’s arson unit is so understaffed, it’s only able to investigate a small portion of the suspicious fires, which account for a majority of Detroit’s blazes.

This year, we are going to document every structure fire – more than 3,000, if the past few years are any indication – to provide an unflinching, exhaustive look at the impact of the crisis and how Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration handles it. As part of the project, Detroit on Fire, we will review daily run sheets, 911 calls and dispatch records and interview firefighters and residents. We’ll also provide maps, details and photos of every fire-damaged structure with the assistance of Detroit-based Loveland Technology and Motor City Mapping, an initiative to survey and digitize every property in the city.

We’ll begin publishing the information Thursday.

“We must do better,” Executive Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins told me during an hour-long interview in his office on Aug. 29, which happened to be a wild day when fires broke out in 25 homes, nine cars, a school and an apartment building. “We can’t operate like we did in the past.”

Help us sustain and improve this project with a donation.

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.

  • bighorn

    Would be awesome if you could make an app for android and ios that has an interactive map with all of the data.

  • Erik Rebecca Watkins

    I think this is really important work that you are doing. I am happy to see an independrnt voice for truth in Detroit. Keep up the great work Steve.

  • 1Joshua

    Great work, Steve. The recolonization of Detroit includes this aspect near the top of its projects.

  • bob


    You left your tin foil hat at home today

    • bebow

      Try to keep up, bob. There is nothing in my earlier comment that isn’t true.

      • Daniel David

        Evidence, junior? Got any of that?

  • bebow

    Detroit Works = Detroit Future City = Urban Renewal

    When the plan was first announced, an undisciplined mouth let the cat out of the bag. The intention to clear unselected neighborhoods in an effort to downsize the city by creating a hostile environment was revealed. An uproar followed. The plan was renamed. Lights went up to combat backlash stemming from the threat to immerse unworthy residents in darkness by deliberately cutting service. The plan is still in place, but it has grown new tentacles.

    • HankReardon

      Just think…if no one was lighting these buildings on fire, this wouldn’t be a problem. Unless of course you believe there is a city-sponsored arson department at work here too.

      • bebow

        I’m not a criminal, Hank. I’ve never been suspected, accused, arrested, or prosecuted. I don’t support, enable, defend, excuse, or associate with deviants. I pay my taxes. When I call for the service I paid to receive, it had better arrive with a swiftness. I’m responsible for myself and my own. Are you suggesting I share collective responsibility for crimes committed by unsocialized, unpoliced deviants?

    • Daniel David

      Omg. All of your comments are fucking horrible. Get off the internet.

      • bebow

        Many readers, who follow the situation in the unselected areas closely, disagree with your opinion. Try to keep up, and if you still don’t like my comments, then don’t read them. It’s that simple.

        • Daniel David

          “Try to keep up” – I like that. Very self-congratulatory.

          I’m trying not to read them, but somehow your comment about our need for Gestapo police tactics in an already notoriously corrupt police department to stop “terrorists” (aka: residents of Detroit) from attacking firemen has nudged its way to the top of the comments and is demanding my attention. As if that weren’t enough – your awesome comment about the DFD having a conspiracy to start all the fires in the city (while scrambling to put them all out for some reason you failed to contemplate) similarly demanded my attention.

          I’m sorry to be a troll, but I can’t keep it locked up with idiotic statements like your terrorist comments floating around.

          • bebow

            You don’t read well.