Number of suspicious fires rose again in May, sparing few sections of Detroit

Red=suspicious fire; white=other cause

In less than 40 minutes, fires broke out in four houses and a commercial building in a four-block area of Detroit’s east side on May 28.

The suspicious blazes drew nearly 70 firefighters from 17 companies, including one crew from Hamtramck, leaving a large swath of the city without fire protection.

The fires were among 155 suspicious blazes that damaged or destroyed houses, businesses, apartment buildings, schools and churches in May, according to data collected by Motor City Muckraker. May recorded more suspicious fires than any month so far this year.

Two-thirds of the structure fires were suspicious. The tally does not include more than 100 car, garage or rubbish fires.

About half of the structure fires were in abandoned houses and buildings.

All photos by Steve Neavling
Photo by Steve Neavling.

Each month, the fires pose a bigger challenge to firefighters because of the city’s deteriorating fleet of trucks and engines, firehouse closures and chronically broken or faulty fire hydrants. The obstacles mean fires often burn longer and cause more damage.

In May, for example, house fires spread to 27 neighboring homes. Of the 255 structures that were damaged, 118 either collapsed or would cost more to repair than the property is worth, according to inspections by Motor City Mapping, a nonprofit initiative to document every parcel in Detroit.

Virtually no section of the city was unaffected by fires. But 48205 (northwest) continued to have more fires than any other zip code with 22, all but four of which were suspicious. The area has an abundance of abandoned houses and one of the highest crime rates in the city.


Firefighters continued to have trouble with the aging fleet of rigs. Ten engines and ladder trucks broke down en route to fires or at the scene. Many of the rigs had broken pumps and ladders.

This is part of our yearlong series that documents every fire in Detroit. Please consider a contribution to keep the project alive. Other stories:

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.

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