In the line of fire: Flint resident expresses concern over the fires in Eastside Franklin Park

The following is a Flintside opinion piece by Flintside contributor 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].

I was just getting to that point of consciousness where you slip from light sleep to deep sleep when I heard the familiar cry for the fourth time this month: “Oh, (expletive), there’s another fire across the street!”

Immediately, I’m wide awake.

Pulling on a jacket and grabbing my cell phone, I head outside with my husband to locate the fire and call it in. Thankfully, I got outside to find that it had already been called into 911 so I only had to make sure that the neighbors closest to the burning building were awake and aware in case they needed to protect their property from catching aflame.

This past year, the incidents of arson in this neighborhood have increased a lot. Not a month has gone by that there hasn’t been at least one fire, and quite often there are more than one. This isn’t counting the other types of damage/destruction to peoples’ properties. Just the fires.

You have to wonder, do the people setting these fires even realize how quickly and easily these fires could turn from single-structure fires to multi-structure fires? After all, in this residential area, the houses are packed in pretty close together. And they’re all older homes, which means wood-based and exceptionally flammable — 100-year-old homes — in most cases so the wood is very dry! Add to this that most of the remaining residents around here are older, more ill, less easily able to get around. It would be so easy for one of us to end up trapped in a burning building.

So what can we do about these arsons? Several things come to mind. We can take it in turns to patrol. Mark out on our neighborhood map exactly where the abandoned houses are. Organize for those of us who are able to take a certain watch period during the night and walk/drive around to check on the vacant houses for signs of activity. Report the activity and record it where possible. Yes, walk away as you’re reporting it so that you don’t get stopped or spotted. And call the police. That way, even if the police don’t come out, you have the activity/recording on record.
An onlooker views the fire damage of Washington Elementary School.Another thing is to support homeless shelters, drug rehabilitation facilities, and other programs of that nature. Because some of these arsons, especially those in cooler weather, might simply be a matter of someone trying to get inside and get warm. A little compassion can go a long way towards fixing problems, too!

Talk to your neighbors. All of them. Even the one you usually don’t get along with because all lives are precious. It is better to work with everyone than it is to go around trying to solve problems alone.

The main point is, we need to come together as members of this community and take back our power. If we work together, if we explore the options open to us, we stand a better chance of reducing fires or even preventing them. Wouldn’t that be safer for all of us?

UPDATE (10/7/2021): As I was editing this before sending it in, yet more fires have occurred in the neighborhood. I’m typing right now while Washington Elementary, which takes up an entire block (Arlington Ave., Ohio Ave., Vernon Ave., and Missouri Ave.) has been ablaze since approximately 12:00 a.m last night.

At one point, the flames leapt high enough that they could be seen overtop the surrounding houses. The fire department — bless those brave individuals! — has been on scene the entire time but pretty much has to let the structure burn itself out since the fire was so fiercely burning when they arrived.

Residents around here have been up most of the night, between fears that burning debris floating on the air might set their properties afire, and the choking, toxin-laden smoke which makes it so difficult to breathe for many of the ill and elderly residents. As a personal aside, most of us in this area are not disconcerted by fires in and of themselves.

Fires, like most disasters, occur everywhere. We try to prevent them and try to help those adversely affected by them and otherwise realize that it’s a normal part of living in communities. However, these purposely set fires are dangerous in several ways: we have homeless individuals who often use the abandoned structures as shelter when they sleep, the homes in this area are closely packed together and are old structures themselves, some of these houses are nearly 100 years old which makes them highly flammable.

Also, most of these homes are occupied and there is a serious mix of disabled, ill, or elderly which means that they would have difficulty evacuating their homes for even a small fire. While our firefighters are quick responders, there is no guarantee that they could respond in time to get people out. 

Whoever is doing this is not concerned with loss of property, damage, or potential injury or loss of innocent lives. We, as residents, need to step up and formulate a patrol. We need to work with local law enforcement to stop this malicious destruction. This is OUR Flint. 

Those in the Eastside Franklin Park area who are interested in setting up a neighborhood patrol may leave a message on the Eastside Franklin Park Neighborhood Association page on Facebook.

Read more articles by Lisa Squier.