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[photogallerylink id=26013]Detroit Mayor Dave Bing praised the fire department for responding to what he termed “a natural disaster” as wind-whipped flames destroyed dozens of homes across the city. Bing said firefighters confronted conditions “that were not manmade” Tuesday afternoon and evening.
From the east side, to the west, Detroit fire crews were overwhelmed with dozens of fires. Wind gusts of up to 50 mph forced flames to jump from house to house, eventually encompassing 85 homes and garages in neighborhoods throughout much of the city.
No injuries were reported.
Asked at a news conference Wednesday whether the department was adequately staffed, the mayor said it was important to point out that nobody was killed.
“It’s very important that people are out of their homes at this point, but life is more important than anything else. And they [firefighters] just did an outstanding job in collabritivly working together with so many other support companies for around our area to bring us where we are today,” Bing said.
Fire Commissioner James Mack says the department is budgeted for about 500 firefighters, about 20 fewer positions than last year. He says the 236 on duty Tuesday is typical.
Investiagtors have determined that eight of the 85 fires Tuesday were related to downed power wires, two were arson. Mack said that on any given day, there are usually 35 fires in the city.
If he could do anything different, he says he might have called for help from the suburbs a little sooner.
The mayor got a little heated when a reporter in the crowd asked if he was qualified to hold DTE accountable for the downed lines that may have lead to the fires.
“Don’t ask me about qualifications, okay? Don’t ask me about qualifiations right now. We are dealing with folks’ lives. Let me deal with that,” Bing said.
“You 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 as this time whether its Red Cross or other community based organizations,” Bing said.
Firefighters from a half-dozen neighboring agencies assisted the Detroit fire department.
After putting out the flames, fire crews were called back to the Van Dyke-Seven Mile area five times overnight to douse hot spots, according to WWJ’s Ron Dewey.
Smoke was still rising from the area more than 12 hours after the fires started.
Betsy Mays who lives a couple blocks from the fire said she was worried.
“There was so much wind and the wind would blow on the ash and one of the ash got on one of the stumps and caught the stump on fire.”
There were fires reported near Hendrie and Dubois.
Also, fires were reported near Livernois and Curtis on the west side of town.
A fire department official said, at one point, all available fire equipment was in use.
DTE Energy Co. spokesman Scott Simons said the utility was unaware of any link between its lines and the fires but said winds knocked out service to about 50,000 customers. About 18,000 homes and businesses were powerless Wednesday morning.
(© MMX WWJ Radio, All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to his report.)