Deadly fire rips through camper parked inside white picket fence in Detroit

Firefighters found a body inside this camper late Wednesday night.
Firefighters found a body inside this camper late Wednesday night. Via Google Maps.

A baby blue camper parked inside a white picket fence on Detroit’s east side was engulfed in flames late Wednesday night, killing one occupant.

Firefighters found a body inside the burning camper at 10:15 p.m. on the 900o block of Edgewood, just northwest of I-94 and Gratiot, on land that belongs to the city of Detroit, according to the Wayne County Treasurer’s Office.

Since at least 2007, the camper has served as a permanent home for a man who has meticulously maintained the yard and several gardens.

For reasons that aren’t yet clear, dispatchers sent just one fire rig to the scene. The city usually sends between two and five rigs to suspected fires, especially when there is a fear that someone is inside.

Firefighters from Engine 46 found the body about 12 minutes after arriving.

We are awaiting a response from the Fire Department and dispatch center.

This story is part of our yearlong project to document every fire in Detroit as rigs break down at alarming rates and arsonists continue to decimate neighborhoods.

Other stories in this series:

To help us sustain and improve the project throughout the year, please consider 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.

  • disqus_GxFSMhn70a

    Profiled here in 2008 by John Carlisle at Metrotimes:
    Very sad to hear of this.

  • bebow

    The man made a decent, orderly life with very little in hand. He contributed something of value. We can all respect him for that.

  • Ingemar Johansson

    They sent one engine because it was a still alarm for the report of an RV on fire not a box alarm for the report of a house or building on fire. They would have had no way to know there was a person inside because a dispatcher doesn’t assume that an RV parked in a neighborhood is being occupied as someone’s primary residence. For all the dispatchers and firefighters arriving on scene knew this was no more than a larger version of an automobile on fire.

    • Paula Brooks

      My daughter called the fire department and she tried to explain that it was a trailer that someone was living in. But there was really no reason for more than one truck.

      • Dave Jordano

        Paula, do you know if he died from smoke inhalation or worse?

        • javierjuanmanuel

          Its only a few steps in any direction to get out of such a trailer, unless he was trying to fight the fire and stayed inside while it burned it would be easy to get out of a 16 ft long trailer. Likely the whole thing went up in about 3-4-5 seconds, all the carpet, his bed or sofa etc. Look at a youtube video of a sofa on fire with out accelerate. If he spilled kerosene, and got it on himself, and a puddle on the ground, he likely perished in a terrible way by burning up, not to ash, but he died of third degree burns.

  • queenie1

    Didn’t I see a story about this man before in the Metro Times or something? Not sure if it is the same man, but I seem to recall something about him making his own power pedaling a bike maybe?

    • mugg$

      OMG I was JUST about to post the same thing!! Very strange- because I had no idea or recollection of what he lived in,so I wouldn’t have known the color of trailer/white picket fence etc- but for some odd reason when I saw the pic, his story came to mind (I remember watching a documentary on the people of Detroit, and all I remember of him was footage of his invention using pedal power and auto parts) bizarre! Sad…

  • Billy Blake

    Oh don’t you just love it. Just move a travel trailer on the land banks land. Keep up the yard. And you don’t have to worry about property taxes. Oh yes the freedom of it all. Only in Detroit

    • javierjuanmanuel

      It is interesting that he was squating, which is stealing and cheating the system, and he built a fortress wall for his trailer and his car. Very interesting.

      I would like to hear from a neighbor that has paid maybe 3-4k in taxes per year and what they thought of a trailer there with a fence around it.

      If you live within three blocks of something like that, they should not be able to tax you.

      • Dave Jordano

        I knew Glen. I photographed him on several occasions. He was a shining light in his neighborhood and all the surrounding neighbors loved him. He moved onto a derelict and abandoned piece of property eight years ago and transformed it into a beautiful garden. His neighbors took pride in their yards because of what he did to his. He set the bar, not his neighbors. He didn’t pay taxes but so what. He was too poor. There are square miles of abandoned lots that the city owns. Do they take care of them. Hell no. So what’s the harm of one person transforming a tiny patch of unused land and turning it into their own little paradise? I wouldn’t call Glen a squatter. He owned his trailer free and clear. If he hadn’t come along the land would have just been another overgrown, junk ridden eyesore. Do we have to be so callus that even the loss of life doesn’t give us a moment to stop and reflect what has happened here. Glen heated his little camper with kerosene so something obviously went wrong with his heater. A person died. He was a gentle, sweet man prone to building custom bikes cobbled together from used parts. He was like a child in many ways and he made lawn sculptures and crazy contraptions that decorated his yard. He built a pedle bike that would charge up a car battery so he could listen to the radio. He was inventive and lived sustainably off the grid. He never bothered anybody. It’s unconscionable that someone could even criticize him for the minimal impact he caused and the simple piece dirt he lived on.

        • Mel

          Proud that we live in a city where people like this man are defended against those who would rush to accuse a man of ‘cheating the system’ and not paying his taxes immediately after a horrible death. I’d happily take 100 Glens in trailers in all the abandoned and unkempt lots in my neighborhood. I am proud to know that humans like Glen lived, and ashamed that some of these commenters do.

          • javierjuanmanuel

            You missed the nuance of my point. He was stealing, and clearly built a wall around his squat to protect his stuff. Then it should be obvious if people do not pay, then services suffer, which can end up allot worse than this. It is not far fetched to have an apartment building burn down, and 20-30 could die because the fire engine ladder is busted, or every truck is in use. That one extra fire means people on floors 4-5-6-7 die.

          • Dave Jordano

            I think you have a good heart Javier, but complaining about the fate of this poor man and his inability to not pay the taxes on land he didn’t own, is not the proper place to post your grievance. The property was owned by the city. If they really wanted to do something about it they would have removed him from the property a long time ago. They obviously had to know he was living there after eight long years. It was vacant land not worth much more than $100.00. Please pick you fight somewhere else. This goes for Billy Blake too.

          • javierjuanmanuel

            I said I felt bad for him, I said he sounds like a nice guy. There is more to the story than just a nice guy died.

            If that was all that happened, it would not make the news, as it happens all the time, even not in squats, people fall asleep smoking, or animal knocks over a space heater etc.

            It is news worthy because it is a crazy trailer right out in the open. So I am commenting on that.

            It does not matter if the land is worth $100, I do not have kids but I have to pay taxes to the schools, I probably will not get my SS, and I will have contributed a small fortune, and if I could keep my SS money and invest it for 50 years, I could have millions. So what, no one cares. I still have to pay.

            He was consuming services, as a firetruck showed up. If he had mail delivered, or if there was a working street light, or cops patrolled the area, then that costs a flat cost, the cops do not work for nothing because the land is worth nothing, the basically make almost as much as a nice area (albeit low starting wage for detroit cops, they can make 80-110k). So to make this happen, people need to pay.

            Lastly its unconstiutional to NOT MAKE HIM PAY, you cannot make others pay, and let him go, its a violation of the 14th ammendment. Its no different than a tax for black voters, or denying jews right to bear arms, they have to evenly enforce the law.

          • Dave Jordano

            80% of all the fires in Detroit that fire fighters respond to are caused by arsons that torch empty buildings. That’s what’s depleting the equipment and stressing the system in Detroit, not the real need of people like Glen who unfortunately lost his life. This is a tragedy from any angle you look at it from, but Glen was certainly not the problem nor the cause of your complaint. Glen actually had a good factory job, and for many years owned a house, had two cars, paid his taxes and then lost it all when his job was shipped overseas. He was forced into living the way he did because the capitalist system turned its back on him. Imagine how many good people are living this way right now through no fault of their own. Have some compassion man.

          • javierjuanmanuel

            But are the 80% of the fires started by arson, to get ones money out of a house they cannot sell, because everyone else was on the take, and ruined the area?

            I know there are a couple dozen firebugs who get off on fires, but its allot of illegal electricity hook ups, using stoves, space heatrs, burning huge fires in fireplaces and setting the joint on fire on accident also in a dumb way.

            It only takes one guy to set his place on fire on accident stealing electricity, then your 60k house will not sell with a burned house full of rats sitting next door for 7 years.

            This all has a consequence, just being poor is not a get out of jail free card for doing dumb stuff, a couple poor folks doing dumb shit can ruin a whole block, then it spreads.

          • Billy Blake

            I did not complain about Glen not paying taxes. I love the freedom that you can have living in Detroit.

          • mugg$

            JAvierjuanmanuel I have to agree with your main point. The reason we have order and laws is to have a smooth running and SAFE community. If we all made our own rules, and lived in an anarchist run community, it would not be the utopia the anti-establishmentarians imagine life would be. When humans ignore safety codes such as proper wiring and the safe and legal way to use combustibles, it puts everyone at risk not just the offender too. If we all lived like this man, our fire depts and police depts would go bankrupt in no time, and we would all live in fear 24/7 of our neighbors causing our homes to burn up or roofs falling atop our heads.

          • javierjuanmanuel

            Thank you, this is a cautionary tale as much as anything, life can go in an instant if you get just a tiny bit wreckless.

            Its a much bigger deal if you live in town houses, and the guy down the waysmokes crack and passes out drinking and smoking and burns down your home.

            Houses do not even need to be connected, just an old area with no driveways, you can have 5-6-7 detached homes catch fire in a minute, not hard to do at all.

            As much as this guy should not have died, a dude working two jobs paying his taxes, doing well, being a working sqaure should not have his kid dies, or life turned upside down by the crack head next door stealng power.

          • Bradley Greene

            Nuance this: SUCK MY ASS

        • javierjuanmanuel

          I did not suggest he was not a good guy to know. The story is about not enough fire trucks showing up …. well that makes it impossible to fund a fire dept for 700,000 people if only half pay taxes. The end result is garbage can’t be picked up, houses cannot be leveled, streets cannot be plowed.

        • angela williams

          Yes yes yes I stay right across from glen..he even offered to cut my grass I am hurt by this tragedy!!r.I.p. glen..theneighborhood will never be the same without u..he was a great person!!

        • mugg$

          So it IS the guy! The guy who did pedal power! Oh man! wow… I am in Arizona and I remember seeing him on a documentary about Detroit…. funny because I knew nothing of what he lived in or where exactly- but coincidentally a few years have passed since I watched that documentary but when I read this article I had a FEELING it was “that guy”. Is that nuts or what. Anyway, I never forgot him! Every time I hear the name “Detroit” I thought of that man and his pedal power. Amazing.

        • Dave Jordano

          A portrait I took of Glen last year with one of his custom bikes.

        • Trexinmichigan

          Thank you for letting us know who he was. The world needs more people like him.Very sorry for your loss and ours.

      • Mel

        You should be ashamed of yourself.

        • javierjuanmanuel

          If you think taxes are a joke, how will you sleep at night when an apartment building burns down and people above the third floor all die?

          • Bradley Greene

            You are absolutely the most callous ass-hat I’ve seen on the net in sometime. Grow up.

      • Paula Brooks

        I live across the street from where the trailer is, at first we were very upset to have that eyesore to look at out our windows and when we went outside but he kept that property and the property around him so nice and clean it just became our normal. I was out there last night and it was sad to hear that he was in there, so no didn’t we worry about the taxes he wasn’t paying, we just had an unusual neighbor who made a corner that would have been full of weeds and trash beautiful

    • queenie1

      People are just trying to survive out here. And it’s not only in Detroit.

      • javierjuanmanuel

        Well people are trying to survive everywhere i agree with that. What other urban area or older inner ring suburb can you squat in a trailer for years.

        Not knocking the guy, if thats the best he could do, but it is super unusual to squat in general, much less in a trailer in a urban area, then remain there unbothered for 7 years or more.

        • Indomita

          If you think it’s ‘super unusual to squat in general’, I’m guessing you don’t live in a city where homelessness is a problem.

          • javierjuanmanuel

            She said not just in detroit. That was my response to the suggestion that this could happen in even sorta dumpy places like south warren, hazel park, worst block of mt clemens or pontiac. This cannot happen in troy, or dearborn, or sterling heights etc. So yes it is uncommon to plant a trailer, build a wall, and squat for maybe as long as ten years. You cannot even have a snow mobile or landscape trailer in your yard for three days in most towns with out getting a ticket of about 200 bucks.

            I feel sorry for the guy. He sounds nice, he should not have died this way. What he was doing was wrong, dangerous, and it is unusual to plant a trailer in an urban area and fly under the radar so long.

            Think of what I am saying as defending the fd, not slamming your buddy. I like that he took pride in his squat land. Still a squat though, being nice doesnt change that.

          • javierjuanmanuel

            Its similar to people who steal electricity. They can burn down an entire block. You can be a mostly good person, do a bad thing, and bring terrible results on yourself and those near you

          • Mel

            It ‘cannot happen’ in those cities because the tax base is sufficient that their police forces are sufficient, and police are thus not so overburdened that they are not able to enforce against squatters. Squatters exist because they are not able to pay for rent, home ownership, or land taxes. They can’t pay for those things because they can’t get a job, or at least not one that pays well enough. There are no jobs because businesses won’t come here. Businesses won’t come here because there’s too much crime (not enough police) and not enough money (not enough jobs). These are cyclical problems, and squatters are not at their root – bad governing and greed are. Also, this guy was not hurting anybody; it’s not ‘dangerous’ to live on a piece of land without paying taxes. He made a mistake with his kerosene heat. People worldwide live off of kerosene heat because they have no choice. Most cannot afford to do anything else. Such is inequality in global capitalism.

          • javierjuanmanuel

            Yes, I agree, before I was done reading your post I thought yes, very cyclical, and glad you used that word.

            While not the root, a squater does draw services that cost money, but they do not contribute. Maybe in that circle, they are a little circle touching the big circle, sorta like a ven diagram.

            He is not living completely free off the land, out in a national forrest. I do not know the guy, but I have to assume he was getting 1200 bucks per month welfare. All the stuff he consumed is not free.

            So not the base causse but near the root, you cannot have so many taking, and expect everyone else to pay double or tripple. The result is the last ten years, where even lower middle class blacks took off for the burbs and said Eff this shit, I do not get anything for my money here.

            Keep doing it, and you will have 300,00 all on welfare, and no one payng anything, that is the logical progression.

            Lay of the capitalism rant, capitalism has raised billions of people OUT of poverty, and tons of countries that were socialist or communist runied what they had, and put hundreds of millions INTO poverty. Is capitalism perfect, no. But even our poor are rich by world standards. They have indoor plumbing, sometimes multiple cars, multiple fridges, multiple tvs, $700 phones that cost a years wage in other countries, a closet full of cloths, a 1200-2000 sq ft house, medical care, free schools. So spare me. This is not south sudan. We have poor people that live better than doctors and engineers in about 40-60 coutries.

      • Billy Blake

        Yes and I’m one of them you don’t know me but if you did. Then you would know it’s true.

  • javierjuanmanuel

    Thats terrible that he died. I do not blame the city. First its so such a small dwelling, if healthy he could or should have exited, he didn’t which makes me think he may gave fallen asleep or had a fall or heart attack and tipped over a heater etc and it went up in a hurry. More than 1 fire truck would not have saved him.