Marcin Szczepanski  /  Detroit Free Press
Flames engulf a home on Detroit's east side Tuesday. Fire officials say flames swept through dozens of homes in Detroit, fanned by strong winds that toppled power lines across the city.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 9/8/2010 12:27:14 PM ET 2010-09-08T16:27:14

A thick odor of smoke filled Detroit's air Wednesday morning after roaring fires, fanned by winds of up to 50 mph, swept through at least three Detroit neighborhoods Tuesday night, destroying dozens of homes.

No injuries have been reported.

"Between roughly 4 o'clock and about 8:30 we responded to about 85 fires," and about 140 downed power lines, fire commissioner James Mack told WXYZ-TV Tuesday night.

Detroit fire Capt. Steve Varnas told the Free Press that some fires may have been caused by dead tree limbs being blown onto power lines.

At least one electric company launched an investigation into possible ties between the blazes and its lines.

Arson also was being looked at as a cause for some of the fires, according to the Detroit News.

"It was like blankets of smoke everywhere and the next thing I know everybody's house was in fire," Louvenia Wallace, 31, a hair stylist and mother of three, told the Detroit Free Press Wednesday outside the duplex she rents.

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The exterior of the second story of Wallace's home was damaged, but fire officials told her the first-floor unit, which she rents, was safe. Her block was all but wiped out by flames, but Wallace said she would probably stay.

"I don't have the money to just move," she told the Free Press.

Another resident, Estralita Jamal, said the fire destroyed her neighborhood.

"It looks like a war zone. The whole block is just gone. It's just gone," she told WXYZ.

Varnas said many of the homes caught in the fires were vacant.

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Detroit Fire Department spokeswoman Katrina Butler said firefighters had to douse several house fires that rekindled early Wednesday. She said fire authorities were investigating the cause of the blazes.

DTE Energy Co. spokesman John Austerberry said Wednesday the utility was "looking into" possible links between its lines and the fires.

Austerberry said about 15,000 DTE customers remained without power, mostly in Detroit. Some 50,000 lost power a day earlier.

CMS Energy Corp. spokeswoman Debra Dodd said about 9,800 remained blacked out after 74,000 customers lost power Tuesday.

"Throughout the whole city, the same thing is happening: Wires down everywhere," Varnas said.

Firefighters from neighboring Dearborn, Warren, Harper Woods and Grosse Pointe assisted the Detroit fire department, which has been hit by cutbacks in recent months, WXYZ-TV reported.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said he was awaiting a report about the severity of the fires, WWJ radio reported. He told Detroit City Council members that many of the burned homes were "livable."

"You've now got families that have been displaced and so I think it's incumbent upon us to make sure we give those families the kind of support they need at this time, whether it's Red Cross or other community based organizations," Bing said, according to WWJ.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Wind-driven fires singe Detroit’s east side

  1. Transcript of: Wind-driven fires singe Detroit’s east side

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: But we're going to begin with those fires that raged across Detroit overnight. Jim Kiertzner from our affiliate there, WDIV , has more. Jim , good morning.

    JIM KIERTZNER reporting: Good morning, Meredith . It has been a long night in this troubled city. For stressed-out Detroit fire crews, they were on this block for five and a half hours last night. They've been back several times during the overnight hours for rekindles, and take a look at why. Several burned-out homes, some of these abandoned, some of these occupied. Residents here watching everything they own in the bull's-eye. A city up in smoke. Firefighters in Detroit battling burning homes on fire Tuesday after a series of fires broke out on the city's east side.

    Unidentified Man: With the wind blowing it starts spreading fire after fire after fire after fire.

    KIERTZNER: Powerful winds up to 49 miles an hour knocked tree branches onto power lines , sparking several of the fast-moving fires. The dangerous flames sent residents scrambling. Many of the burning buildings are abandoned homes in this troubled city, but others are not, hitting those residents still living in the neighborhoods especially hard.

    Unidentified Woman #1: I really don't have a place to go if the house burns down, you know, and I'm going to lose everything.

    KIERTZNER: Residents feared for the worst as crews responded to 85 fires in just a four-hour period, a grueling task for the city's firefighters.

    Mr. GREGORY WILLIAMS (Deputy Fire Chief): Because our manpower is so sparse. My men have got to pace themselves at this point in time.

    KIERTZNER: As fire crews fought the flames and smoke, many residents scrambled to save what they could.

    Unidentified Woman #2: It is bad. It's really bad. I mean, you can't hardly see.

    KIERTZNER: Many could not believe what they were seeing.

    Woman #2: I see my -- it's on fire. It's on -- it's on fire.

    KIERTZNER: And power lines are still down, thousands still without power here in the city of Detroit . You can see this live line in this backyard is not a threat. But with winds still whipping at 20 miles an hour this morning, there is still a threat here in the city of Detroit . Matt:

    MATT LAUER, co-host: All right, Jim Kiertzner from WDIV , our Detroit affiliate. Jim , thank you very much . We appreciate that.

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