Fire strikes again in neighborhood with bad hydrants, destroying 3 homes

Flames came dangerously close Larry Reeves' house after the hydrants failed to properly work. All photos by Steve Neavling.
Flames came dangerously close Larry Reeves’ house after the hydrants failed to properly work. All photos by Steve Neavling.

Sleep doesn’t come easy to Larry Reeves.

Since moving to Detroit’s west side three months ago, three nearby fires have spread to neighboring houses and apartment buildings because the hydrants – many of which were installed this year – didn’t properly work.

Through the window of one of the fire-damaged houses on Monterey.
Through the window of one of the fire-damaged houses on Monterey.

On Tuesday morning, flames swept through three houses on his block as firefighters rushed to find a working hydrant.

“I have no water pressure on the entire block,” the chief radioed to dispatchers at 3:12 a.m. on the 2700 block of Monterey near Linwood.

Nearly 20 minutes after the fire broke out, firefighters found a working hydrant more than a block away, but the hose wasn’t long enough, so firefighters had to relay the water through two fire engines.

“I might be better off with a garden hose and a Bible,” Reeves, 26, told me.

“How many people have to roast in their beds before there’s better equipment and hydrants? We’re not asking for much.”

Turns out, the valves that provide water to the hydrants were closed, firefighters at the scene said. A crew from the Department of Water and Sewerage Department arrived later to open the valves, but it was too late.

Related: Detroit neglects hundreds of fire hydrants

Grass and weeds cover up the sidewalk at Monterey and Lawton.
Grass and weeds cover up the sidewalk at Monterey and Lawton.

The neighborhood, like many scattered across the 140-square-mile city, was to be “decommissioned or repurposed,” according to former Mayor Dave Bing’s controversial blueprint for the future, the Detroit Strategic Framework Plan.

While running for office in 2013, Mayor Mike Duggan pledged to scrap any plans to disrupt city services in targeted areas and repeated his campaign motto, “Every neighborhood has a future.”

Yet the city has neglected many neighborhoods, including the area where Reeves and plenty of families live. The stop sign on Reeves’ block is knocked over. Neighbors walk on the worn-out streets because the sidewalks are covered with grass and weeds.
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City-owned houses are dilapidated and gutted by fires.

“This is no way to live,” Tracey Davis said, pointing to the burned-out houses across the street. “But what am I going to do? Who’s going to buy a house and live like this? No one.”

A fire spread from a house to an apartment after the hydrants failed to work.
A fire spread from a house to an apartment after the hydrants failed to work.

A block away on Richton and Lawton, a large brick house caught fire and spread to a four-story apartment building on July 8 because firefighters couldn’t find a working hydrant. Two firefighters were injured.

“We got water supply issues in this whole neighborhood,” the chief said at the time.

Yet nothing has changed.

Related: Detroit routinely sends dangerously defective rigs to fires

On Aug. 11, firefighters had trouble with water pressure again, this time as a fire ripped through a two-story brick house that eventually collapsed.

Neighbors criticized Mayor Duggan after fire ripped through this apartment at Richton and Lawton because of failing hydrants.
Neighbors criticized Mayor Duggan after fire ripped through this apartment at Richton and Lawton because of failing hydrants.

Fed up, neighbors erected signs, criticizing Duggan for failing to better protect the neighborhood.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) said today it’s investigating the water-pressure problems.

DWSD spokesman Greg Eno said the new hydrants on Reeves’ block aren’t equipped to handle large fires.

“The low water pressure issue stems from the fact that the hydrants there are on a smaller 6-inch water main, so there was not enough capacity to supply multiple hoses effectively,” Eno said today.

A new hydrant installed this year didn't work.
A new hydrant installed this year didn’t work.

Reeves is dumbfounded.

“If I lose my house, I have nowhere to go,” he told me. “It’s enough I got to worry about people stealing my radio or mugging me on the way to the store. I shouldn’t have to worry about burning in my sleep because a house is on fire five houses away.”

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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.