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Detroit’s Angels’ Night fires falls to record low 52

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

The grim Detroit tradition of setting things on fire during the three days around Halloween continues to be extinguished by a cadre of volunteers, police and fire fighters, and corporate support.

This year, a record low 52 fires were reported in the city over the three-day period starting Oct. 29 and ending at midnight on Halloween, city officials said Sunday afternoon. Fewer than half those fires — 23— are considered suspicious, officials said.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan was joined by city and community officials, including Interim Fire Commissioner Eric Jones and Police Chief James Craig, at a Sunday press conference to share the news with Detroiters.

He claimed the success as a “total community effort.”

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

“I remember when this used to be called Devil’s Night — (and) it truly was Devil’s Night,” said Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, during the press conference. “Now, it’s truly Angels’ Night,” she said, amid the cheers of volunteers and police and fire officials who had put in long hours the past three days.

The 52 total is down from 97 last year and a far cry from the nightmarish days of the 1980s, when the tradition took root and hundreds of suspicious fires roared throughout the city. In 1984, there where 801 fires, which is the record.

This year’s record low follows years of decline thanks to an all-out campaign by city officials to marshal volunteers, enforce a curfew and have a large presence of police and fire fighters. During the past four years, the annual number of fires during the three days hovered between 93 and 97.

This year, more than 4,000 volunteers patrolled the streets while 400 police officers were deployed as well as extra Fire Department personnel, city officials said. Prior to the Angels’ Night period, police towed 380 abandoned vehicles. Only two vehicle fires were set during the Angels’ Night period.

Companies like McDonald’s donated $10,000 to the effort and other businesses provided free pizzas to community centers. More than 600 people attended Halloween activities at the police’s 12th Precinct, which offered hay rides and a haunted house.

The credit for the declining number goes to volunteers like Gary Begley, said city officials.

Begley didn’t wear a cape or mask Friday night — but he did affix a flashing light atop his Dodge Intrepid.

“I’m not Superman or Captain America, but I’m going to save my neighborhood,” said Begley. “I’m going to go until I can’t drive anymore.” Begley made his rounds on Woodmere in southwest Detroit, following a 56-hour workweek power-washing restaurants and other Mexican Village businesses.

So far this year, fires are down overall by around 10 percent, officials said. But Detroit continues to be ravaged by fire. There remain thousands of vacant structures that are targets for accidental or intentional fire. An earlier Detroit News investigation found the city averaged 3,000 suspicious fires per year between 2010 and 2013.