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Southend Fire Underscores A Growing Concern Over Empty Houses

By Charles Sercombe

A Hanley St. house fire last Sunday afternoon is being called highly suspicious by fire officials.

At about 5 p.m., a fire suddenly erupted in the rear of a two-family house on Hanley just east of Jos. Campau.

By the time firefighters arrived, the rear of the house was already destroyed.

“We pulled up and the back was engulfed in flames,” said Fire Chief Steve Paruk.

Investigators were trying to find out if neighbors saw anyone at the house or leaving the backyard before the fire started. Paruk said that considering how aggressive the fire was at the time firefighters arrived, it appears it was intentionally started – or at the least the result of an accident.

Paruk said, though, the city had condemned the property, the house was vacant and that all utilities had been cut off – including the gas line. Add it all up, he said, and “it sounds like an intentionally set fire.”

Hamtramck firefighters were helped by Detroit firefighters, who sent three rigs. Paruk said Detroit firefighters were called by someone outside of the department.

One Hamtramck firefighter injured his foot when the back porch collapsed. He fell three feet. Paruk said that if there had been a basement underneath the porch, the injury could have been much worse.

Two structures next to the house were damaged. One structure was a house and likely suffered nearly $8,000 in damages to the roof and siding, Paruk said.

Paruk said the owner of the house said he planned to remodel the house and rent it out.

The fire underscores a growing concern among city officials over the fate of about 200 empty houses in the city. While the threat of arson to the structures isn’t as severe as it is in neighboring Detroit, it is still a concern.

But that concern may turn out to be short-lived.

The city is seeking a developer to purchase and remodel the empty houses and sell or rent them to plaintiffs connected with a housing discrimination lawsuit filed against the city over 30 years ago.

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