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Devil’s Night Haunts Detroit; Residents Patrol Streets

October 31, 1990

DETROIT (AP) _ Police and firefighters were on alert Tuesday, a curfew was in place and residents toted fire extinguishers on special patrols for Devil’s Night, Detroit’s annual pre-Halloween arson rampage.

Officials refused to keep the media informed on arson blazes, but reporters and citizens reported at least two possible cases by 11 p.m.

″I’m afraid. It’s like you’re a prisoner in your own house. I wouldn’t go out,″ said Mildred Koyton, 67.

Koyton said that every Devil’s Night she paces from her front door to the back, ready to protect her two-story home next to an empty lot where a house burned two years ago.

″All you can do is hope for the best,″ Koyton said. ″But sometimes faith can be weakened when you see so much going on.″

Last year, the mayor’s office reported 223 fires from Oct. 29 to Oct. 31, 115 of those on Devil’s Night, the night before Halloween. There are about 60 fires on a normal night in Detroit.

The worst Devil’s Night was in 1984, when 810 fires set during the three- day rampage left dozens of families homeless.

Police arrested 154 youths Monday night for violating the 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, compared with 160 arrested during the first night of the curfew last year, said police spokesman Officer John Leavens. The curfew is for people under age 19.

Tuesday, there were 71 curfew-violation arrests, said Officer Allene Ray, adding that she didn’t know how many fires there were. ″They’re keeping that from us,″ Officer Thomas Martinelli said of fire department officials.

Public information numbers at the fire department rang unanswered Tuesday night.

Ray Wright, coordinator for block patrol Operation Get Down, said it was quiet around his east-side neighborhood.

″Thank God for that. No fires. I’m driving around and we’ve had no incidents. We’ve smelled smoke but not in our sector and we haven’t seen a fire,″ he said.

But near his neighborhood, one house near the border of tony Grosse Pointe Park burned Tuesday, said neighbor D.J. Hazebrook. ″It was a big red glow,″ he said.

Nearby, a vacant house was blazing at 11 p.m., attracting at least 70 spectators, some of whom recorded the event with videocameras.

There was no way to immediately determine if the fires were the work Devil’s Night arsonists.

In one effort to keep would-be firebugs at home, the Southeast Michigan Cable Association this year decided to unscramble TV signals to non- subscribers. That made available Tuesday night’s cable offerings ″In Country″ with Bruce Willis, ″Gung Ho″ with Michael Keaton, and ″The Muppets Take Manhattan.″

To reduce the number of targets, the city knocked down about 5,000 abandoned homes during the fiscal year from July 1, 1989, to June 30, according to the latest city records available.

Mayor Coleman A. Young last week unveiled a ″My Heart Is with Detroit″ campaign that urged residents to take pride in the city and increase the number of anti-arson patrols.

He said more than 35,000 residents and city workers volunteered, many wielding fire extinguishers as they walked their streets and alleys.

″The people are tired. They’re the ones that are out there making sure it doesn’t happen again, and that’s going to be the difference this year,″ said Toni McIlwain, coordinator of three Detroit neighborhood associations of 4,100 homes near City Airport that united for Devil’s Night patrols.

″People are tired of being scared,″ McIlwain said.

Volunteers in the Barton-McFarlane Neighborhood Association of 20,000 residents have patrolled every year for six years, watering down trash bins at sundown and removing from curbsides garbage and old furniture that might tempt firebugs.

Residents said they also hoped to put an end to Detroit’s tarnished image, which has drawn news crews from as far away as Japan each year.

″We had a reporter from Tokyo Monday looking for what house and what street would burn,″ said Joseph Walker Williams, president of the Barton- McFarlane association.

Detroit Firefighters Association President Robert Haig said fires often are set by youths responding to the hype surrounding Devil’s Night.

″It’s dangerous for firefighters. We don’t need this. It’s like people come in and egg it on,″ Haig said.

Neighboring communities and cities as far as Flint 50 miles north also prepared for a fiery spillover from Detroit.

Flint Assistant Fire Chief Ron Downing said about 140 fires were reported in the city of 159,000 residents last year, catching the city off guard. There are five fires on a typical night, he said.

″This year, we prepared for the worst,″ he said. The city doubled its work force to 75 firefighters Tuesday night.

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