Accused serial arsonist charged in string of Detroit fires, officials say

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — An accused serial arsonist was arraigned Friday in connection with a series of house fires on the city's west side over the past year, Interim Fire Commissioner Charles Simms said. 

Andrael Davis, 30, was apprehended last week by authorities as he was allegedly attempting to set fire to a vacant house in the city's Virginia Park neighborhood. He's charged with 10 counts of arson and has allegedly been linked to more blazes in Detroit and Highland Park since Detroit's Fire Department began an investigation last spring. Davis is charged with five felonies and five misdemeanors and is being held at Wayne County Jail, Simms announced Friday.

Wayne County Prosecutors initially charged the Detroit man with one count of arson tied to a Feb. 10 fire at 1440 Taylor in Detroit. But upon further investigation, the fire department's arson unit found evidence allegedly linking Davis to several more fires, officials noted Friday. 

Detroit Fire Department leaders say a vacant building at 1401 Atkinson became a total loss following an arson.

“For the past year Virginia Park has been on edge as major efforts are being made to revitalize the community,” Simms said of the neighborhood near the sprawling former Herman Kiefer Hospital complex. “It’s my hope that the arrest of Mr. Davis will bring peace of mind to the residents here and allow the neighborhood’s revitalization efforts to flourish.”

Davis, born and raised in the city, lived near the areas where the fires occurred, Simms said. Between January 2021 and Feb. 10, he said, there have been 13 structure fires and 31 other fires, which were investigated but a cause could not be determined, within two miles of Davis' home.

Davis formerly was arrested for setting fires to a fence on Hazelwood Street and to a trash can located at 16575 Stoepel. He was charged at that time with two misdemeanor counts of arson, officials said. 

Davis allegedly resurfaced in April at East Seven Mile and Hoover when another trash can was set on fire, authorities said. Detroit Police arrested Davis at the location of that fire and during his arrest, he assaulted the officers. He was arraigned on those charges last week.

The city's fire investigation unit observed heightened arson activity in the Virginia Park neighborhood in December and on Feb. 10, undercover police allegedly saw Davis on Taylor Street, preparing to set fire to the garage of a recently burned property and arrested him. 

Detroit Fire Department officials share photographs of properties damaged by an alleged serial arsonist arraigned Friday, Feb. 18.

Investigators, Simms said, further connected him to three fires on Taylor Street, two on Clairmount and Atkinson. Davis, authorities said, also was linked to fires near Highland Park including on Hazelwood, Glendale and Glynn Court.

David Sanders, the Detroit Police Department officer in charge of arson, said the undercover operation was successful in part from tips from the community.

"After we locked him (Davis) up and interrogated him, we find out he set four other fires. This suspect would use no accelerants. He would just use combustibles with cardboard boxes," Sanders said. "He brought the cardboard boxes to the garage and set the boxes on fire.

"We thank the community," Sanders added. "We couldn't get him without you guys."

Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield, who represents the neighborhood located in the city's District 5, said her office has received emails weekly regarding arson. 

"Today is justice for this community and shows the importance of engagement of the community," she said. "The safety of our neighborhoods is of the utmost importance. We will not tolerate this type of behavior."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_