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Five Blazes Hit Michigan Town

July 5, 2002

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HIGHLAND PARK, Mich. (AP) _ Five simultaneous fires in a cash-strapped town destroyed several homes and a mosque, stretching fire and police services to the limit, authorities said.

No injuries were reported. By 4:30 a.m. Friday, the blazes were contained.

The fires broke out a five locations about 11:40 p.m. Thursday, said police Sgt. Robert Howard. At least some of the fires began in vacant buildings and spread, he said.

``Two or three of them probably are arson with intent to burn,″ he said, adding that July Fourth fireworks may have been a factor in one or more the fires as well.

The worst of the fires began in a vacant auto transmission shop and spread, destroying several occupied homes and a building housing a mosque.

Howard said the fire department is hampered by staff cuts, unfilled vacancies and outdated equipment and struggled to fight so many blazes erupting at the same time.

``We’re short-staffed. That’s why we can’t go out there and do our job,″ he said.

Highland Park, a town of 16,700 surrounded by Detroit, has been struggling with severe budget deficits and is headed by an emergency financial manager.

In an effort to save Highland Park from bankruptcy and dissolution, Gov. John Engler has proposed placing the city and its school district under control of a chief executive.

Neighbors pitched in to help firefighters until units from Detroit and other nearby municipalities showed up.

``When they got here, there wasn’t enough manpower. There were only four or five firefighters,″ said Ali Miyzaan, who lives nearby and was a member of the destroyed mosque.

A Detroit fire dispatcher, who did not give his name, said his department had been unable to send initial help because it was too busy fighting its own fires. He said units were sent at 2:30 a.m.

``By the time they showed up, everything was pretty much burned to the ground,″ Miyzaan said.

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