Dousing the Devil: Record low fires break out during pre-Halloween tradition

Detroit has doused the devil.

During the three-day Devil’s Night period, only 52 fires broke out – the lowest number since at least the 1970s. The previous record low was 93 in 2012.

Only 23 of the 52 fires were deemed suspicious.

Fires broke out in 35 houses and spread to an additional seven homes. One injury was reported.

For the second year in a row, July 4 recorded more fires than Devil’s Night. In just 10 hours beginning at 8 p.m. on July 4, more than 60 fires broke out in houses, garages, cars, trash cans and a vacant furniture store.

Devil’s Night fires have gradually declined since 1984, when 810 fires broke out and firefighter response times jumped to seven hours.

Devil’s Night began as early as the 1930s when pranksters threw eggs and toilet paper at houses. The mischievous escalated to arson in the 1970s.

After 354 fires broke out in 1994, then-Mayor Dennis Archer created “Angels’ Night” with thousands of volunteer patrols, strict curfews and bans on portable gas containers.  In 1995, the number of fires declined to 158.

Mayor Mike Duggan oversaw another aggressive anti-arson campaign as thousands of people volunteered to patrol the streets this year. Police and arson investigators were on hand at most fires.

“I can’t say enough about the dedicated volunteers who have come out year after year.  This is their accomplishment,” Mayor Duggan said. “This was a total community effort.”

It’s unclear what accounts for the dramatic decline in fires this year, but it’s difficult to deny the impact of Mayor Duggan’s demolition efforts. Since he took office in January 2014, the city has razed more than 7,000 houses and 150 commercial buildings, offering fewer targets for arsonists.



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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