Detroit on Fire: 220+ houses, buildings burn in January; fire rigs malfunction

Red=suspicious fires. Yellow=unknown or accidental

Less than an hour after ringing in the new year, Detroit firefighters were called to the city’s first fire of 2015 – a small blaze in an occupied house on the west side. Over the next two hours, firefighters were called back to the modest house on the 12000 block of Stout at least two more times because someone was repeatedly setting the home on fire.

“There may be a disturbance at the scene along with weapons,” a dispatcher warned firefighters.

A suspicious fire guts this house at 12089 Stout on Jan. 1. Photo by Michael Brouwer.
A suspicious fire guts this house at 12089 Stout on Jan. 1. Photo by Michael Brouwer.

By 3:30 a.m., the arsonist succeeded in gutting the house.

“They shot my mom at this house,” a dreadlocked man said from the back seat of a car idling outside of the burning home, his breath heavy with booze. “You don’t know what the fuck is going on. This is some gang shit.”

In Detroit, fires are a serious menace, burning neighborhood cores and chasing out longtime residents. The city’s disastrous budget decisions over the past three decades have left the fire department with a skeleton crew of firefighters and a frail fleet of routinely malfunctioning rigs.

This year we are tracking every structure fire in Detroit – more than 3,000, if the past few years are any indication. The project, Detroit on Fire, will provide an unflinching look at a crisis that has been largely ignored by the media and neglected by politicians.

In January, fires broke out in 205 houses, 10 commercial buildings, seven apartments, two churches and a school. Two people were killed and several more injured, including two firefighters.

Click here to see the full list of January fires.

About half of the fires were suspicious, but most will never be investigated because the arson unit is vastly outmatched by arsonists who burn down buildings for insurance, revenge, thrills, scrap metal or blight removal.

Of the buildings where firefighters could determine occupancy, slightly more than half were vacant.

During that time, 15 fire rigs malfunctioned on the way to fires or at the scene, dispatch reports show. An additional two rigs couldn’t respond to fires because the fire station doors wouldn’t open.

Firefighters were further hampered by at least 16 broken hydrants.

The failures meant blazes burned longer, causing more damage and spreading to neighboring properties.

The highest concentration of fires was in west-side neighborhoods bounded by Michigan, West Grand River, Ford and Puritan. On the east side, the area near the old State Fairgrounds also was hit hard.

Beginning Friday, we will begin running an up-to-date list of every fire with details, which we will get from dispatch reports, run sheets, 911 calls, incident reports and interviews with witnesses and firefighters. All fires will be updated within 24 hours, and post-fire photos of every property will be on Motor City Mapping, an initiative to provide current photos of every parcel in Detroit. The unique technology was created by Detroit-based Loveland Technologies.





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.

  • LAHeat

    Hmm, at the rate the fires are occurring and the number of fires there will not be a need for the DFD because there will be nothing left to burn in Detroit. Maybe that was the Mayor’s plan all along? That way the city does not need to spend any money on fire equipment. Case closed. Sad commentary for a city that is trying to make a comeback.

    • Paulie Francis

      at this rate it would take over 20 years they estimate they have 80,000 abandoned homes in Detroit.

  • I RUN THE GREATER BOSTON INCIDENT PAGING GROUP IN MASSACHUSETTS, I HAVE FALLEN IN LOVE WITH THE D.F.D., I LISTEN TO THE SCANNER FEED PRETTY MUCH EVERYDAY, I HAVE NEVER HERD SUCH A PROFESSIONALLY RUN DEPT AS THE D.F.D. IT’S A SHAME THAT THE PEOPLE THAT RUN THE CITY HAVE LET IT GET TO THE POINT THE CITY IS AT, IT COULD BE SUCH A GREAT CITY AGAIN, IT HAS SUCH A GREAT HISTORY WITH THE AUTOMOBILE INDUSTRY AND OTHER STUFF, IT KILLS ME TO SEE THE DOCUMENTARIES THE DETROIT IS BURNING PROJECT HAS PUT OUT, SEEING THAT THE MEN AND WOMEN OF THE D.F.D. CAN’T EVEN GET THE MOST BASIC EQUIPMENT THAT THEY NEED, THEN TO HEAR THAT THEY WOULD BE DISCIPLINED IF THEY TALK TO THE MEDIA, OR ACCEPT DONATIONS THAT’S LUDICROUS AT THE LEAST,STEVE KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK, I HOPE THE CITY CAN MAKE A REBOUND!
    GARY/G.B.D1

  • bebow

    It smells like invisible dopeman shit to me.