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Detroit only has 12 arson investigators for 5,000 fires annually

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By Taryn Asher
Fox 2 News

DETROIT (WJBK) -- A rash of arsons has Detroit firefighters crying out for help, but unfortunately that call is going unanswered more and more often.  Arson investigators are too few and overworked.

There are not even enough investigators to staff the unit.  We've learned that firefighters actually witnessed an arson and there wasn't one arson investigator available.

On Detroit's west side on 28th Street near Cobb, there is a neighborhood gutted by abandoned house fires.  We learned there have been eight arsons over the last two weeks.  One man is believed to be responsible.

"I was born in this neighborhood and then this," said Demisha Fisher.  "It makes me want to cry because of the way it looks now."

Then on Monday night it's believed the same arsonist struck again hitting even closer to home for Fisher.  Cooking dinner in the kitchen at the time, she watched as the house next door went up in flames in a matter of minutes.

Fisher said Detroit fire crews arrived right away and did the best they could to keep the blaze away.

"It was a little scary because my whole thing was I hope the wind doesn't blow and blow the fire towards our house because this is our family house," she said.

While firefighters worked to stop that fire from spreading, they were stunned by what they were about to see.  A few doors down, another house fire sparked likely set by the same brazen arsonist.

As firefighters battled two blazes, they called for arson investigators and got a recording.  No one was available because we found out Detroit only has enough arson investigators to staff the unit half of the week.  With no one available, sources told me a total of six more fires were set in that same neighborhood that same night.

Mary, who lives among the charred structures, is worried her house could be next.

"You wake up two or three in the morning and hear the sirens going off.  It's kind of scary," she said.

Firefighters are doing the best they can to respond in a city plagued by arsons.  5,000 fires need to be investigated each year with only a dozen people hired to do it.

Fisher's family house barely survived this fire.  They don't plan to stick around to see what happens next.

"The neighborhood has gone down.  It's not like it used to be.  People don't care about things anymore like they used to," she said.

I did speak with an arson investigator and he said they were working as hard as possible.  He did call this very embarrassing.  In fact, they didn't find out about those last six fires until the next day, so they believe a total of 14 by the same person and clearly they got a late start investigating the final six.

Question and Answer

MONICA GAYLE: The lack of manpower is such a big issue for the firefighters.  Any plans at all to hire any additional arson investigators?

ASHER: It was fewer arson investigators until just recently.  That number was just brought up to twelve.  They hired back some laid off investigators... I am told they do plan to hire more, but it takes about a year to get them fully trained, so as it was said to me, this is going to be another tough year.

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