Up close: DTE, rotting trees to blame for many of Detroit’s wind-swept fires

An abundance of dead trees and electrical lines suspended by old wooden posts are to blame for many of the dozens of fires that broke out in Detroit on Wednesday.

The city often ran out of firefighters to respond, and 911 operators were so busy that people were placed on hold for five minutes or longer. Sometimes the 911 line was busy.

“It was the busiest day for fires in many years,” Deputy Fire Commissioner told Motor City Muckraker.

In September 10, 2010, more than 80 fires broke out in Detroit because of wind gusts that reached 50 mph. Those fires were worse because it was drier out.

All photos by Steve Neavling.

Wednesday’s fires often broke out when sparking power lines fell on homes, garages and lawns. The wind fanned the flames.
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From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., I drove around the east side and found about a dozen brush fires burning unattended. Firefighters were too busy battling garage, house and other brush fires to respond.

By the time firefighters were able to reach a brush fire at Belvidere and E. Canfield, flames had jumped to three houses. Firefighters were able to quickly extinguish those fires.

It wasn’t clear Wednesday night whether wind was to blame for an apartment building fire that killed five people and injured four others at Whittier and Beaconsfield. A “person of interest” was taken into custody.
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DTE Energy, which is responsible for the power lines, has not replaced many of the old, frail wooden posts that are scattered throughout Detroit. The city also has a plethora of dead trees that are easily toppled by wind.

All photos by Steve Neavling.

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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.