City on track for second-lowest Angels’ Night fires

Nicquel Terry, Kim Kozlowski, and Christine Ferretti

Detroit — The city’s fire department battled 26 blazes on the second night of Detroit’s annual Angels’ Night, putting it on track for the second-lowest number of recorded fires in the history of the anti-arson campaign, officials said Monday.

After the first two nights of the three-day campaign, which continues through Halloween, the Detroit Fire Department has responded to 40 fires, compared to 28 last year.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, flanked by Detroit Police Chief James Craig and fire commissioner Eric Jones, earlier this month spoke about this year’s Angels’ Night volunteer effort.

The three-day total for 2015 was 52 fires, down from 97 the year prior — and the lowest since the inception of Angels’ Night patrols 20 years ago.

“Over the course of the first two days of our patrols, what we have seen so far is not much different from our success last year,” Fire Commissioner Eric Jones said in a statement released Monday. “The efforts of volunteers continues to make a difference and we know they will be out again tonight as children celebrate Halloween.”

Monday’s statistics reflect fires the department responded to between 12:01 a.m. Sunday through midnight Monday.

Of the 26 fires reported Sunday, 20 were structure fires, six of which were deemed suspicious, officials said. Causes of the other fires are undetermined and remain under investigation. Firefighters also responded to two garage fires and four trash fires.

This year, more than 6,000 volunteers registered for street patrols for the annual program, according to the Duggan administration’s Department of Neighborhoods.

After the downward trend in the number of fires over the three-day event, Mayor Mike Duggan on Sunday said Detroit may switch from citizen patrols aimed at stopping scofflaws to a celebration for children.

“We’re continuing to have remarkable success,” Duggan said Sunday. “and last year’s numbers we couldn’t believe and this year we are seeing even fewer fires. ... But if the results are the same, maybe next year we’ll come out for three nights of children’s activities and not be talking about fires anymore. There seems to be a lot of enthusiasm for that.”

For the 24-hour period the night before, from midnight Saturday to Sunday, there were 14 fires reported in Detroit, including seven house fires — one in a vacant structure — and seven fires in trash bins, vehicles and a garage.

Those numbers are dramatically different from the 1980s and early 1990s, when between 500 and 800 fires were set in Detroit during what was then called Devil’s Night. In 1984, the city recorded 810 fires during the pre-Halloween period.

“People came from around the world to film it,” said Charlie Beckham, the mayor’s group executive for neighborhoods said Sunday. “We had a bad image.”

After Devil’s Night in 1994, then-Mayor Dennis Archer began the Angels’ Night campaign, which led to more police patrols, a curfew for minors and thousands of volunteers watching the neighborhoods, on guard for arsonists.

The city recorded 354 fires in 1994, 169 in 2010, and just under 100 per year after from 2011 to 2014, before recording 52 in 2015, city statistics show.

Duggan declined to cite how low the number of fires needed to be end the Angels’ Night campaign, but he said the three-night gathering leading up to Halloween could transition to new events.

“When you get 3-4,000 people all come out together, there is a sense of community,” Duggan said. “From talking with the volunteers, people want to do something. I am hoping next year all the activities people come out for are for children.”

Still, skeptical volunteers worry.

“You can’t stop doing this,” said Mary Grant, who was at the Northwest Activities Center, where many volunteers had gathered. “Because if you stop doing this, the fires will increase because people will know that you are not watching. The fires have slowed down because the program has been very effective.”

Sean Davis, deputy manager for Detroit’s volunteers in District 2 on the northwest side, agreed the Angels’ Night campaign may have outlived its purpose but also thinks the city can’t stop the campaign until blight structures are removed. Arsonists often target empty structures, he said.

The city has been involved in a massive blight removal project, which has come under federal and city scrutiny last fall for soaring costs and bidding practices. More than 10,000 vacant structures were removed in Detroit, and there’s another 10,000 to 15,000 that still that need to be removed, officials said.

“As long as the blight is there, the fires will return,” Davis said, adding he hoped to see the city’s blighted structures gone in a few years. “Detroit is the only place in the country that has something like this. It’s ridiculous.”

The city on Monday said volunteers are still being accepted for patrols on Halloween night. To sign up, visit the city’s website or call 313-224-4415.