Detroit, DTE failed to protect residents from downed power lines, fires

After more than 100 h0mes were destroyed in one day by wind-whipped fires two years ago, Mayor Dave Bing and DTE Energy pledged to tackle the chronic problems with downed power lines.

But Monday, those pledges fell far short as both were ill-equipped to handle strong winds that toppled more than 200 power lines. Many live lines snaked unattended across streets, fields and sidewalks for more than an hour because neither the fire department nor DTE had sufficient resources to handle the hazards, a Motor City Muckraker investigation found.

Some of the downed power lines caused house fires and near mishaps with residents.

Guarding a power line that sparked in a field by his house, Stewart Jennings looked bewildered.

“Look how dangerous this is,” he said near McDougall and Mack, where a sizzling line dangled from a utility pole. “If that thing fell right now, it would fry us.”

Downed power lines are all too common in Detroit because of outdated infrastructure and an abundance of dead trees that topple the wires, especially when the wind is strong.

In post-war neighborhoods, the city of Detroit planted more than 400,000 elm trees along residential streets.

But after a fungus decimated the population beginning in the 1950s, the city left the elms to rot.
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The tens of thousands of trees still standing are rotting and leaning over houses, streets, parks, power lines and driveways. The city is unable to handle hundreds of requests a year to remove dangerously leaning trees because of a worker shortage.

Strong wind is expected to continue today.

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.