Dozens of vacant homes in Detroit have been set ablaze in recent weeks by a spate of arson attacks. In a surprising response, firefighters in the city have controversially proposed to let the homes burn rather than trying to save them, in order to save money.
Donald Austin, executive fire commissioner in Detroit, told WDIV-NBC that the proposals weren’t as controversial as they first seem:
“We are in no way looking to 'let the city' burn, this is about saving lives and money. My department is strapped, the budget is strapped, and it’s time to look at a new way of doing things.”
According to MSNBC, who first reported on the proposal, Austin’s proposed “new way” would quite simply involve allowing vacant properties in the city to burn down – so long as they are at least “50% on fire and there is no risk posed to nearby buildings”.
The plan has yet to be approved by city officials, although proponents argue that the idea makes sense as many vacant buildings in the city are set to be demolished anyway – as such, they say that letting them burn will save the city money. However, critics argue that it’s irresponsible to let vacant buildings just burn for no reason, especially if they haven’t yet been placed on the city’s demolition list.
Detroit is suffering from a plague of vacant buildings. A new documentary about Detroit’s firefighters, appropriately titled “Burn”, estimates there are as many as 80,000 vacant buildings in the city. In addition, these buildings make up 40% to 60% of fires in the city.
According to MSNBC, incidences of arson attacks in the last few years have increased dramatically. 2010 saw a total of 1,082 arson attacks – 636 more than the previous year, according to data from the FBI.
The film “Burn” suggests several reasons for the increased number of arson fires in Detroit, including sabotage from underwater homeowners, arson for profit (insurance), and accidental fires started by thieves stripping the buildings of materials and leaving gas lines exposed.