Fires are an everyday occurrence in Detroit – the city has seen around 11,000 a year in the last decade, according to a June report. But the fire that broke out Wednesday morning in an apartment building in Detroit's west side was particularly virulent.
Images showed bright yellow flames consuming the Jason Manor apartment building, setting off thick, black clouds of smoke, which nearly hid the "For Rent" sign on the building.
Firefighters rescued about 25 people from the three-story apartment building, which was so engulfed in flames that people were jumping out windows to escape. Three people were injured in the fire and taken to a hospital, police said. Some people are still unaccounted for, according to police Officer Dan Donakowski, although police say there are no reported fatalities so far.
The building was still smoldering by late morning. Temperatures were in the low 20s in Detroit, but because the fire started so early, people were emerging from the building half-dressed.
"A lot of people were half-naked. We gave them shoes," Doug Woodcock, who works nearby, told the Detroit Free Press.
Ellery Taylor was drinking his morning coffee when he heard smoke alarms going off, he told the newspaper.
"I opened my door, the door wasn't hot, but I opened the door and smoke came right in, and I started coughing," he said. It was his neighbor who informed him there was a fire.
The fire started around 6 a.m., police said. They had been called to the same apartment building the night before to deal with an attempted rape, police said, and the victim was taken to the hospital, where she is listed in serious condition. There is no indication the two events are related.
About 60% of the fires that occur each year in Detroit happen in blighted or unoccupied buildings, and the city is struggling to deal with arsons at such properties. The city, which is in bankruptcy proceedings, is only able to solve 6% of its arsons, according to 2011 data, the most recent available. Comparable cities, such as Pittsburgh, clear 28% of their arsons.
Detroit's police, fire and emergency medical departments are chronically underfunded and many firetrucks have mechanical issues. Only 10 to 14 of the city's 36 ambulances were in service during the first quarter of 2013.
Police said they did not know how quickly they or the Fire Department were able to respond to the fire at the apartment building.
A reorganization plan for the city presented to creditors last month proposes spending hundreds of millions of dollars upgrading the city's police and fire departments. Some creditors have objected to the idea that they will take losses of 20 cents on the dollar while the city spends $1.5 billion on infrastructure investments.