House fire spreads after every hydrant in Detroit neighborhood fails

4430 maxwell comparison
Fire flattened this house on Maxwell on Detroit’s east side after hydrants failed. Before photo via Motor City Mapping. After photo by Steve Neavling.

Detroit firefighters scrambled for blocks in search of a working hydrant on the east side Thursday night but couldn’t find one as flames flattened a large, occupied duplex, scorched three neighboring houses and sent large embers onto nearby rooftops.

Firefighters made an interior attack soon after arriving at 9:10 p.m. but were forced out five minutes later because of a lack of hydrant water.

“Everyone inside, get out of the fire,” the battalion chief radioed to firefighters.
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“Everyone out!”

As flames tore through the brick house at 4430 Maxwell, firefighters began to realize the entire area lacked working hydrants.

Maxwell fire

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) arrived on scene at 9:45 p.m. but couldn’t fix the problem.

Shortly before 10 p.m., a firefighter delivered the dreaded news: “We can’t find any working hydrants.”

By then, the fire had toppled the duplex, and enormous embers had caught a house on fire on Seminole, a block northwest of the blaze. Houses on each side of the fire also were burned.

The next morning, neighbors feared their homes may be next if another fire breaks out.

“It’s crazy,” said Mark Bryant, who moved from Atlanta to Detroit three years ago. “Never seen anything like it. It’s like living in a third-world country.”

DWSD is investigating.

“We are having inspectors run tests in that area to determine if there is a systemic issue, and if so, what may need to be done to address it,” DWSD spokeswoman Curtrise Garner told us.

Defective hydrants have become a big problem in Detroit. In April, the city declined to turn over records that show the number of broken fire plugs in the city, prompting Motor City Muckraker to file a lawsuit against the city for violating the Michigan Freedom of Information Act. The city has since turned over some of the records to our attorney, Ralph Simpson.

On Monday morning, the city ran out of firefighters to respond to house blazes, causing fires to spread to occupied homes and flatten others.

In March, we featured an investigation into the problems, showing that the city was neglecting hydrants.

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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