More than a dozen arson fires in Detroit on the night of July 4 marked the latest flare up of a longtime scourge in the city, Reuters reports. It is a problem that has festered for decades and has persisted even as the population declined. With the city now teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, the futile struggle to contain arson is a reminder of the depths of Detroit’s decline. “It’s not safe here. It’s a war zone,” said Terrence Coleman, 52, as embers from a blaze rained down on him. “This whole neighborhood is going to burn down one day, I’m afraid.”
As firefighters attacked flames raging in two adjacent vacant houses, they called for backup equipment that never came. Five blazes had broken out in 25 minutes, all suspected arsons, and the Detroit Fire Department, where budget cuts have led to a crippling shortage of equipment and manpower, could provide no extra help. In Detroit, arsons are so frequent – about 5,000 estimated last year by the Detroit Fire Department – that authorities can only investigate about one of every five suspicious fire cases, Fire Commissioner Don Austin said. Arsons are more prevalent in aging Rust Belt cities than in other parts of the U.S., but Detroit is in a class of its own. Last year, arson fires caused nearly $200 million in property damage in Detroit – more than the losses in Buffalo, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee combined.