Detroit Weighs Plan to Let Vacant Homes Burn

April 25, 2012

A series of arson fires in Detroit is setting dozens of vacant buildings and homes ablaze. Firefighters, meanwhile, have a controversial proposal on the table: Let the vacant homes and buildings burn to help trim city costs, reports.

“We are in no way looking to 'let the city' burn, this is about saving lives and money,” Donald Austin, Detroit’s executive fire commissioner, told WDIV-NBC in Detroit. “My department is strapped, the budget is strapped, and it’s time to look at a new way of doing things.” 

That new way, according to Austin, would mean allowing vacant buildings to burn that were more than 50 percent on fire and when they do not pose a risk to nearby structures.  The proposal still needs to win approval from city officials.

Proponents of the plan say the vacant buildings are going to be torn down eventually anyway, and argue that letting them burn will save costs. Critics, on the other hand, say the vacant homes shouldn’t be allowed to burn unless they are on a predetermined demolition list. 

Detroit has been plagued by vacant structures in recent years, with an estimated 80,000 vacant homes and buildings, according to a new documentary, titled “Burn,” about Detroit firefighters that includes the controversial new proposal. What’s more, the fire department says that 40 to 60 percent of the city’s fires are in vacant structures.

Arson fires in Detroit have increased dramatically over the last few years. In 2010, arson fires rose to 1,082 incidents, which is 636 more than a year prior, according to FBI data. 

According to the film “Burn,” filmmakers cite several reasons for the increase of arson fires on vacant structures, including arson for profit, home owners who are underwater, and fires caused from scrapping. Scrapping is when thieves strip vacant buildings of materials, such as metal piping. If gas line is left exposed, this can lead to a fire.  

Source: “Detroit May Let Abandoned Buildings Burn,” (April 24, 2012)