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Owner faults Detroit hydrant issues in loss of house

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Hayward Graves Jr. sunk his retirement fund into a three-story tudor in city’s historic Boston-Edison neighborhood.

On Monday, the U.S. Army veteran stood by helplessly as a fire burned it to the ground.

“There’s nothing. The bricks aren’t even salvageable,” he said. “It’s a total devastation.”

The 99-year-old, six-bedroom home on Chicago Boulevard caught fire while Graves and his wife, Valerie, were at work.

Firefighters were dispatched just after 6:30 p.m. Monday. Within six minutes, two engine companies and one ladder truck were on the scene.

The first truck connected to a hydrant at the corner of Chicago and Byron and began fighting the fire. Two other trucks had to bypass a broken hydrant and hooked into two hydrants nearby, Fire Commissioner Edsel Jenkins said in a statement.

Crews extinguished flames in the basement but the fire traveled quickly, engulfing the remaining floors. A potential cause hasn’t been released.

Jenkins said despite the sub-zero temperatures and limited water pressure, firefighters were able to stop the fire from spreading to nearby homes. They were unable to save Graves’ home.

Since the fire, Detroit Water and Sewerage Department workers repaired the mid-block hydrant that had been tagged inoperable. The working hydrant at Chicago and Byron was inspected and found to be in need of replacement.

Graves says he understands the weather conditions may have played a part, but says the water pressure was poor. He claims the broken hydrant had been that way for months and repairing it after the fact was “a little bit too late.”

“I just don’t understand it,” he said. “I put everything I had into that home. I lost everything.”

Greg Eno, a spokesman for DWSD, confirmed the hydrant repairs have been completed. He also noted there were three other hydrants on the block firefighters could use.

Eno said DWSD and the fire department are going through records to determine how long the mid-block hydrant was out of service.

There are about 70 non-functioning hydrants out of 30,000 citywide. Of those, some may be frozen and need to be thawed and cleared. Others may require replacement or repair. About 276 functioning hydrants have been identified as being in need of minor repair, Eno said.

Graves said he paid a combined $32,000 for the purchase prices and outstanding taxes on the home. He then invested about $20,000 to repair it.

Graves, who lost his previous home to foreclosure, said he started a new job in December after being out of work for five years.

He did not have homeowner’s insurance. Graves added he was making arrangements to get things paid up and to obtain insurance since he returned to work.

Graves’ sister, Marshauna Graves Moore, said he was proud of the work he’d done to bring the house from a state of disrepair to a level of quality that landed it in an annual neighborhood home tour.

Graves is well-known in the community and a “good neighbor,” who worked to maintain the common areas, help with security, mow lawns and put up holiday decorations, she said.

“To see him go through this is heartbreaking,” she said.

To help, a relative has established a “rebuilding fund” for Graves. By late Wednesday, $420 had been raised.

Graves says he’s staying with neighbors and is grateful for the help. He’s frustrated over the hydrants, but is loyal to Detroit.

“I love the city and I’m with it,” he said. “But we need to do something different about the services.”

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