Arsons, bad hydrants, neglect spelled trouble on Detroit’s west side

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Detroit has thousands of malfunctioning fire hydrants. File photo by Steve Neavling

Detroit is a long way from being a healthy city.

Take late Saturday morning, when a suspicious fire broke out inside a city-owned house that Detroit had neglected and left open to trespass. The Fire Department arrived at 10:45 a.m. but could not contain the blaze on the 12000 block of Roselawn because the fire hydrants weren’t working or had extremely low pressure – a common problem.

By 11:02 a.m., the fire spread to an occupied house. Three minutes later, flames jumped to another house. There was nothing firefighters could do.

At 11:45 a.m., an hour after the fire started, Chief 2 called for an arson squad because the woman whose house burned said she knew who started the fire. But the lone arson squad in a city that averages more than 12 serious arsons a day was tied up on another investigation.

Even when called, Detroit police often don’t show up because they’re busy handling other crimes.

About 10 minutes later, firefighters spotted a vacant house fire just a block away on Greenlawn.
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Firefighters said it appeared accelerants were used.

Related: Detroit firefighters attacked by rocks, bottles during wild day of arsons

Battling fires is a constant struggle in a city with thousands of malfunctioning fire hydrants, an inadequate number of firefighters and investigators and about 85,000 blighted and abandoned homes and buildings.

Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration is doing all it can with limited resources. The city is demolishing more than 200 blighted houses a week, hiring more firefighters and repairing and replacing aging fire rigs.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department repairs and maintains more than 27,000 fire hydrants.

“A healthy city doesn’t burn,” Executive Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins told. “We have to tackle this problem from all fronts.”

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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