Winds push fires through dozens of Detroit homes

Published September 8, 2010

DETROIT – Wind-whipped flames swept through at least three Detroit neighborhoods, destroying dozens of homes, including many that were vacant, officials said.

A thick odor of smoke filled the air Wednesday morning after the roaring fires, fanned by winds of up to 50 mph, jumped from house to house Tuesday night. No injuries have been reported.

"Between roughly 4 o'clock and about 8:30 we responded to about 85 fires," and about 140 downed power lines, fire commissioner James Mack told WXYZ-TV Tuesday night.

"It was like blankets of smoke everywhere and the next thing I know everybody's house was in fire," Louvenia Wallace, 31, a hair stylist and mother of three, told the Detroit Free Press Wednesday outside the duplex she rents.

The exterior of the second story of Wallace's home was damaged, but fire officials told her the first-floor unit, which she rents, was safe. Her block was all but wiped out by flames, but Wallace said she would probably stay.

"I don't have the money to just move," she told the Free Press.

Another resident, Estralita Jamal, said the fire destroyed her neighborhood.

"It looks like a war zone. The whole block is just gone. It's just gone," she told WXYZ.

Detroit fire Capt. Steve Varnas told the Free Press that some fires may have been caused by dead tree limbs being blown onto power lines. Many of the homes caught in the fires were vacant, Varnas said.

Detroit Fire Department spokeswoman Katrina Butler said firefighters had to douse several house fires that rekindled early Wednesday. She said fire authorities were investigating the cause of the blazes.

DTE Energy Co. spokesman John Austerberry said Wednesday the utility was "looking into" possible links between its lines and the fires.

Austerberry said about 15,000 DTE customers remained without power, mostly in Detroit. Some 50,000 lost power a day earlier.

CMS Energy Corp. spokeswoman Debra Dodd said about 9,800 remained blacked out after 74,000 customers lost power Tuesday.

"Throughout the whole city, the same thing is happening: Wires down everywhere," Varnas said.

Firefighters from neighboring Dearborn, Warren, Harper Woods and Grosse Pointe assisted the Detroit fire department, which has been hit by cutbacks in recent months, WXYZ-TV reported.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said he was awaiting a report about the severity of the fires, WWJ radio reported. He told Detroit City Council members that many of the burned homes were "livable."

"You've now got families that have been displaced and so I think it's incumbent upon us to make sure we give those families the kind of support they need at this time, whether it's Red Cross or other community based organizations," Bing said, according to WWJ.

Written by JEFF KAROUB, Associated Press Writer

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