Duggan says Detroit making progress on fires

Christine Ferretti and Joel Kurth
The Detroit News
  • Detroit mayor takes issue with report, says it undercounted fires
  • Study’s author stands by findings, says it was meant to spark dialogue into crisis
  • No matter the number, Detroit leads nation in per-capita fire rates

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan on Thursday called a newly released report about fires in Detroit “unbelievably inaccurate,” saying the city is making progress on the decades-old problem.

If anything, Duggan said, the report by Loveland Technologies undercounted structure fires. The report, “Detroit: After the Fire,” was released Wednesday.

The data company said there were 1,653 structure fires from Jan. 1 to July 31. There were actually 2,256, Duggan said.

“They dramatically understated the work that the men and women of the fire department have done,” he said. “It’s bigger than what the report says.”

So far this year, structure fires are down 18 percent, or about 500 fires, because of a demolition blitz that has razed more than 5,000 vacant homes since 2014 and new investigators in the Fire Department’s Arson Squad, Duggan said.

“We’re doing a lot of things right, but it’s going to take a while before we solve the problems in this town,” Duggan said.

Loveland CEO Jerry Paffendorf said the company stands by its data. The Detroit-based data company listened to scanners every day and visited and photographed every fire scene to verify the damage. Paffendorf explained the discrepancy by saying his company didn’t include about 600 fires in structures that caused no damage, such as grease fires.

The exchange follows an exhaustive report from Loveland that found fires so far this year have displaced at least 1,000 residents and will cost Detroit at least $2.93 million in demolition costs. The project will be updated throughout the year and includes an online interactive map that allows users to examine the severity of fires and photos from the scene.

Many of the findings mirror those of a Detroit News investigation this year that found two-thirds of 9,000 suspicious fires from 2010-2013 are still standing. Following the four-day series in February, Duggan added police officers to the arson squad. The move was intended to free fire investigators to probe more fires, so police could focus on arresting suspects

Neither side disagrees that fires are a huge issue. By Loveland’s calculations, there are about 8 structure fires per day. Using Duggan’s number, the total is closer to 11 per day.

Either number would put Detroit at or near the top in the nation for per-capita fires. It’s a distinction Detroit has had for several years among cities with populations of more than 100,000.

Paffendorf said the report was meant to spark discussion about an ongoing problem that makes life difficult in neighborhoods and challenges efforts to repopulate Detroit.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s getting better or worse when we are showing a picture of what is happening,” Paffendorf said. “The situation is so bad. When you look at it, it’s disastrous.”

Duggan said trends are encouraging.

“If we can string together two or three years of 10- to 20-percent reductions in fire runs in this city we’ll make dramatic progress,” he said. “And that’s the trend we’re on.”

The release of the report comes about a month before City Hall releases fire reports on its Open Data Portal, an online tool that allows users to examine records from daily police reports to housing inspections.