Fire sweeps through 15 homes in SW Detroit

Candice Williams and Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Detroit – — A likely gas explosion Friday on the city's southwest side damaged at least eight homes and sparked a blaze that spread to seven others, destroying them, officials said.

Joseph Slate said he was sitting on the porch of his home not far from the scene near Oakdale and Vernor Highway about 4 p.m. Friday when he heard a blast.

"I was dizzy, stunned," said Slate, who saw a man emerge from the rubble of the house, which was abandoned, and leave. He believes the man was scrapping.

"He got away," Slate said. "(The fire) caught all the houses up. ... That's putting children and people at risk. All for a $10 pipe?"

Fire officials are seeking a suspect, said Detroit Fire Capt. Jack Huckleby.

"Investigators are interviewing a man who was seen running out of the house that exploded who suffered burns to try and determine what role he might have played in the fire or what caused it," city spokesman John Roach said late Friday.

Residents watch as firefighters battle a blaze suspected to have a started from a gas explosion.

DTE Energy and MichCon went to the scene, the dispatcher said.

Erica Donerson, a spokeswoman for DTE, said the utility was working with fire officials to investigate. A cause had not been determined Friday night, but "right now we don't have any reason to believe our service was involved," she said.

At least two houses damaged were occupied, according to firefighters.

Three families lost their homes, said Roach and neighbors who watched firefighters on the ground and in ladder trucks work to extinguish the fires, which had spread from home to home.

The American Red Cross helped 15 adults and six children in four of the homes with food, clothing, shelter and transportation, said volunteer Frank Ward . "I believe we've met their immediate needs for the weekend."

Firefighters from nine companies responded, fire officials said.

Neighbor Paloma Gonzalez said she was coming home from work when she saw a plume of smoke near her home.

"I was scared," she said. "What happened? Where's my family?"

Her mother, Maria Gonzalez, was home at the time of the blast, which shook her house, she said.

"It was like an explosion," she said. "Very fast, hard."

She said she was worried the fire would spread to her home a couple houses away from where firefighters worked Friday evening.

"I commend the guys on the work that they did because it could have gotten out of hand," Huckleby said.