Suspected serial arsonist arrested following dozens of fires on Detroit’s east side

The remains of one of the suspicious fires on Detroit’s east side. Photo by Steve Neavling.

A suspected serial arsonist accused of setting fire to numerous vacant houses on Detroit’s east side over the past two months has been arrested and charged on several felony counts.

Motor City Muckraker first reported about a rash of more than 50 arsons since early September in a small area of the east side generally bounded by8 Mile, 6 Mile, Hoover and Gratiot.

Arson suspect Marzein Porter

On Monday, an ATF agent working with Detroit arson investigators spotted the suspect, Marzein Porter, walk into a vacant house and arrested him “in the act.”

Turns out, Porter lives in the heart of the area near Schoenherr and Fairmount.

Arson investigators believe Porter was involved in 25 or more intentionally set fires.

Porter has been charged with three counts of second-degree arson, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Investigators expect to file more charges as the investigation unfolds.

“Over the past several weeks, task force investigators and representatives of the Mayor’s Department of Neighborhoods knocked on doors and distributed information to residents about the fires in the area,” according to a press release issued Thursday afternoon.

Fire Commissioner Eric Jones said investigators relentlessly pursued tips and staked out the area.

“Fires in that area were quiet during the Angels’ Night period, probably because the suspect knew we’d be out in force looking for him,” Jones said. “But our investigators also knew he’d be back out there once he felt the heat was off. They were right and they literally caught him red handed, thanks to good intel provided by our community partners and tipsters.”

The fires occurred in an area beset by foreclosures and abandonment. Investigators were unsure whether all of the fires were connected, but they had a relatively consistent pattern: The blazes usually broke out in multiple numbers between 4 a.m. and 9 a.m.

On Oct. 13, four fires broke out in the same area, each one a half hour apart.

What’s particularly brazen about these arsons was that most of them have been set while it was daylight. A vast majority of suspicious fires in Detroit occur after dark.

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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.