Detroit Fires High Winds

A firefighter walks from the scene of three destroyed homes in Detroit Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2010. (AP Photo/Detroit Free Press, Kathleen Galligan)

Normally when a major city in the United States is swept by more than 85 fires over the course of a single night and 74,000 people have a power outage, the national news media talks about it. High winds overnight may have been the initial cause:

Detroit Fire Commissioner James Mack addressed questions from reporters who asked how all of these fires started. Commissioner Mack said the high winds and the downed wires played a major role in the outbreak of the house fires. However, he says at least two fires may have been the work of an arsonist.

Some of the worst damage is on the city’s east side. At least 20 homes burned in the area of Robinwood and Van Dyke. The fire spread across the city block to Robinwood Street. Firefighters say it’s possible the blazes in this neighborhood were ignited by a faulty transformer spraying sparks. Those sparks were carried by strong winds and started fires at a number of other houses.

Detroit Fires High Winds

A home is engulfed in flames on Detroit’s east side Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2010. (AP Photo/Detroit Free Press, Marcin Szczepanski)

The number of buildings affected is currently estimated in the dozens, and it has been noted that many of those buildings are abandoned or uninhabited (which is not unusual in Detroit these days).

More interesting, however, is the possibility that there were known, preexisting problems with the power grid that residents reported and which were ignored by the utility company:

The family of a Detroit couple whose home was burned in one of dozens of fires that swept the city Tuesday night said they had been trying to get DTE Energy to the home to check on power surges and service interruptions since last week, but no one from the utility came.

The family also suspected a neighbor was trying to hook into the electric line illegally and told DTE as much, Michelle Denton said.

It would not surprise me much to learn that there is a lot of illegal power grid tapping going on in Detroit these days, given the abject poverty and decay of the city.

Also at issue is the fact that Detroit doesn’t have enough firefighters on the payroll to deal with an emergency of this magnitude.

“We’ve had aid before, just to help out in a specific area, but this time is different. We don’t have anyone available,” said Detroit Fire Capt. Dan McNamara, a 33-year veteran of the department who is president of the Detroit Firefighters Association. “It used to be we could throw enough resources to knock something big down and work our way into it. The day of reckoning has come.”

Though the city does not have enough fire trucks, McNamara said the main concern is the city doesn’t have the firefighters to staff them. Eight or nine fire companies out of 65 are shut down each day, he said.


A Detroit firefighter looks through the smoldering yards of burned homes and garages on East Robinwood in Detroit, Michigan Sept. 8. Dozens of fires swept across Detroit Tuesday night, fanned by high winds and downed power lines with as many as 20 of the fires on East Robinwood and adjacent streets. (Reuters, Rebecca Cook)

Even after firefighters arrived at the scene of a fire, they had to wait for DTE to send people out to deal with the high voltage power feed.

So why is the mainstream press apparently uninterested in this story?

UPDATE: Here’s some raw video. No voiceover.

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