In the line of fire: Flint resident follows up with progress on the fires in Eastside Franklin Park

The following is a Flintside opinion piece by Lisa Squier. Have an idea for an essay or opinion piece you'd like to write for Flintside about life in Flint? Email [email protected].

In the fall of 2021, I wrote an article about the fires around our section of Flint. It seemed like every other night, there was another house or structure of some kind being set on fire. It’s now Spring of 2023, and I have to say that it doesn’t seem all that much better over the last year and a half. Well, the fires have started slowing down — it’s about one fire every month or month-and-a-half now — but they’re still frequent.

Yes, a number of them are likely cold-weather related, but let’s be honest, Michigan winters are not all that mild, even at their best. People who have nowhere else to go such as the homeless, those addicted to drugs or alcohol, and those who ply their trade wandering the streets generally try to find an abandoned home to shelter in and often build small fires to warm up with which then turn into larger structure fires. And I feel for those poor souls. I often wish that Flint had more available resources for those individuals so they have adequate shelter with heat.

Unfortunately, there are still a large portion of the fires that you can be fairly certain are just plain arson-related. It is amazing just how many of the fires in our neighborhood are in structures that are abandoned, run down, and otherwise dangerous eyesores, some of which were already burnt once, but still stand.

In the last article I wrote, there was an update about the Washington Elementary School building that was set afire again. Well, that wasn’t the last time for that building. It is currently even more of a shell than it was in 2021, surrounded by caution tape, with dangerous portions sticking up and awaiting demolition. Mind you, I still see people, especially children, going into the schoolyard to play which terrifies me.

As near as I can tally it thus far, we’ve had about a dozen fires since I last wrote my article. So far, it's been several houses or previously burnt house structures, the school, and a couple of sheds and garages. And just as before, most with a serious indication that whomever was doing it wasn’t concerned with the potential hazards to other houses with residents in them, nor to the toxicity issues associated with people breathing in fumes from nearly 100 year old homes full of lead paint, asbestos, and other hazardous materials.

Flint's century-old Washington Elementary School after being set afire in October 2021. (Jenifer Veloso | Flintside)I really do wonder at the apparent lack of concern; what did this or these individuals miss growing up that they would have such callous disregard for themselves or others? I know that our city is better than this. The residents of our city are better than this. Yet, it continues to happen.

I credit the slowing of the number of fires to several things, the first being the residents in this neighborhood who have made the effort to keep an eye out for their neighbors and the homes around here. We don’t have an official neighborhood watch here. After all, the majority of our residents are older, in varying degrees of health, and/or work, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no watch at all.

We all utilize the old “busybody” method of neighborhood watch here, meaning that when we see vehicles or pedestrians, we all watch them, and we all keep track of them. The next thing is the fire department. Our local fire department responds very quickly to any report of fires in our neighborhood now. Their response speed and diligence has been critical in saving structures once the fire is called in.

And finally, Flint’s law enforcement. It used to be very rare that we felt the police presence in our area but in the last year and a half, we’ve seen more police patrolling around here which has done a lot to reduce the number of transient individuals roaming the area, reducing opportunities to start fires.

Is there room for improvement? Yes, a vast amount of room, but considering where we were in October of 2021, we’ve made progress. And progress should always be celebrated.

This article is part of the People-Centered Oversight Series, which aims to elevate the issues most affecting the Flint community. The series was created in partnership with Flint Beat and made possible by support from The Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy, and funding from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.
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