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Devil’s Night Fires Flare in Detroit

October 31, 1989

DETROIT (AP) _ Devil’s Night fires flared across the city early today despite the efforts of an estimated 30,000 patrolling volunteers and hundreds of arrests under a curfew intended to stem the annual Halloween orgy of arson.

At least five families were left homeless by fires. Overworked firefighters took up to 20 minutes to respond to alarms. No injuries were reported.

Police and firefighters refused to release a count of blazes blamed on youths who take part in the city tradition of setting fires during the three nights culminating in Halloween. They deferred to the office of Mayor Coleman Young, whose aides said no information would be given until a tally is completed Wednesday.

But it was clear that dozens of blazes were set in trash bins and abandoned buildings. City Councilman Mel Ravitz said today that the number of fires was up from last year but was still lower than in earlier years.

″There has been a great effort made ... to reduce the number of incidents of vandalism or arson,″ he said. ″That we may be up a few this year. I don’t think that means the city is going backwards.″

As the sun set Monday, columns of smoke rose from blazes scattered through the poor, mostly low-rise east side, and fires glowed orange as darkness fell.

During the past two nights, at least 334 youths were arrested, police said, four for investigation of arson and the rest for violating the 6 p.m.-to-dawn curfew imposed for the period. Police are allowed to detain children under 18 overnight if they are caught on the streets without a parent.

One burned-out resident, Penny Thomas, blamed Devil’s Night revelers for the blaze that erupted in an abandoned house next door and destroyed her home.

″The house just went to burning in the front, and me and my friends, we ran out of the house,″ Thomas said. ″The fire kept burning and the fire truck hadn’t got here yet.″

Benny Braxton, a retiree whose home burned this morning, said he stayed up late watching the abandoned house next door out of fear of arsonists before finally going to sleep. Neighbors roused him when his house caught fire.

″Because that house was empty, I had a feeling something was going to happen,″ Braxton said.

″We don’t know what started it or who started it, but somebody definitely started it,″ Fire Capt. Amos Horton said. ″When a place is going like this is going, we know it was set.″

The peculiar tradition apparently peaked in 1984, when firefighters battled 808 fires during the period. The number of fires has declined steadily, and last year there were 229 reported Devil’s Night blazes.

Civilians have joined the battle against arson, and this year, an estimated 30,000 people signed up to patrol the streets, reporting curfew violators and trying to spot fires before they spread.

In part, the strategy is intended to relieve firefighters of the burden of patrolling so they can devote all their time to putting out fires.

The fire and police effort was bolstered by other city workers who cruised the streets of fire-prone neighborhoods in their official cars looking for flare-ups.

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