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Detroit Fire Chief: 'I Haven't Had Anything Like This in 20 Years'

Detroit Fire Chief: 'I Haven't Had Anything Like This in 20 Years'

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Detroit Free Press via YellowBrix

September 08, 2010

DETROIT – Detroit firefighters had to battle strong winds, hot and dry conditions, downed power lines and a lack of equipment and manpower at the same time they fought about 85 fires that erupted in four hours Tuesday afternoon.

No fatalities or serious injuries were reported, though dozens of homes were destroyed — including 18 vacant houses, two occupied homes and nine garages in the Van Dyke and 7 Mile area. American Red Cross volunteers were helping dozens of residents who were burned out, spokesman Gary Krupczak said.

Fire officials blamed most of the fires on downed electrical wires, though the cause of some fires remained under investigation. DTE Energy, which reported as many as 50,000 people without power due to the winds, said Tuesday night it had launched its own investigation.

The National Weather Service said wind gusts up to 40-50 m.p.h. had combined with a lack of rain and other factors to create “explosive fire growth potential.”

Detroit fire officials requested aid from the Warren Fire Department and received help from Harper Woods.

“We had every available company and firefighter out there,” Dan Lijana, a spokesman for Mayor Dave Bing, said Tuesday night.

Doris and Ernest Lee watched their home on Moenart go up in flames.

“It was moving very fast,” Doris Lee said. “A few more minutes and I might not have gotten out.”

The fires spread with the winds.

Sparked by downed power lines, blazes jumped from house to house, garage to garage, displacing families, disrupting neighborhoods and stretching thin the Detroit Fire Department on Tuesday.

“I haven’t had anything like this in 20 years,” said Detroit Fire Chief Gregory Williams, a 36-year veteran of the department.

Some fire officials said that having to respond to and sit near fallen electrical lines waiting for DTE Energy may have hindered responses to fires at homes.

DTE Energy spokesman Scott Simons said Tuesday that the utility was unaware fire officials were blaming some of the fires on downed lines and had heard that only through news media reports.

The company has sent out investigators to look into the claims, Simons said.

High winds knocked about 50,000 customers off service at the peak of outages Tuesday. As of 9 p.m., about 38,000 customers remained without power, Simons said.

He said it could be as late as Thursday until service is restored to all customers.

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