1. Archive

Detroit endures surge in arsons, waits for more

Published Oct. 18, 2005

John Holtyn moved in with his daughter Wednesday, a day after his tidy home burned in a Devil's Night arson fire. Francine Smith watched her garage burn after saving the family cars. The Holtyns and Smith think they were among the victims of arsonists who celebrated the illegal holiday tradition known as Devil's Night by setting blazes citywide.

Firefighters and thousands of block-watchers remained on guard Wednesday night for the end of the arson surge that traditionally begins Oct. 29 and continues through All Hallows Eve.

Although Devil's Night is Oct. 30, the night before Halloween, arson fires also are set the night before and the night after.

"Tonight's Halloween, and the basic thing we're trying to do is make sure the kids are safe," said volunteer patrol organizer Ray Wright.

Fire and police officials refused to discuss the number of fires set. Mayor Coleman Young said the number would be a revealed at a news conference today or Friday.

Last year, the mayor's office reported 223 fires between Oct. 29 and Oct. 31, with 115 of those on Oct. 30. Leaders of the firefighters' union, who backed a Young opponent in last year's mayoral contest, counted 412 fires over the three days. The union's count included blazes in rubbish and in trash bins; the city counted only structure fires.

The worst Devil's Night came in 1984, when 810 fires were set over three days.

This year's fires left a haze over some commuter routes and cut visibility to six miles at the city airport late Tuesday.

"On the surface it's very, very clear that we still have a Devil's Night problem," Young said Wednesday. "But those problems are much more under control today than they were."