DETROIT — Volunteers have long patrolled Detroit’s streets around Halloween to prevent and report arson fires that once numbered in the hundreds during a three-day period called Devil’s Night.
But after three decades of work that helped drastically reduce the number of fires, the effort, which later became known as Angels’ Night, is shifting.
City officials announced Wednesday that after three consecutive years of low fire numbers, future efforts of the long-running campaign will focus on a community celebration for children and families.
The change is expected to start next year and could close a sad chapter in Detroit’s history that saw hundreds of vacant houses, garages and other structures torched around Halloween, including more than 800 fires in 1984.
This year, city and community leaders expanded the number of organized parties, trick-or-treating and other Halloween-themed activities.
“From now on, Halloween in Detroit isn’t going to be about fear. It’s going to be about fun,” Mayor Mike Duggan said Wednesday in a statement. “And not only that, it’s going to last for three days.”
Fire officials reported 54 fires between midnight Sunday and midnight Wednesday. Duggan said the numbers are similar to an average night in Detroit. About two dozen of the fires were deemed suspicious and 18 were in vacant structures.
The city reported 59 fires last year, and 52 were reported in 2015.
The annual anti-arson effort featured thousands of volunteers joining city workers. Many walked neighborhood streets. Others drove. Residents also were asked to be vigilant, especially keeping eyes on nearby vacant houses.
“Quite frankly, there just isn’t the fire activity anymore to justify this kind of mass mobilization,” Fire Commissioner Eric Jones said. “While they haven’t had to put out as many fires, our firefighters have really been getting into the spirit of the Halloween activities.”
The number of fires began to decline shortly after 1984, with the start of the volunteer patrols. But a decade later, the number of blazes increased to more than 350. Some community members cited lack of preparation by then-Mayor Dennis Archer, who blamed the increase on warm, dry weather.
Following a stronger push for volunteers and prevention, the number of fires again began to dip. There were 142 reported over the 1996 Halloween period.
As Angels’ Night patrols continued to increase, the number of fires plummeted. There were 94 reported in 2011 and 93 the following year.
Detroit resident Michael Jones remembers the uptick in 1994, and he’s a bit wary of the volunteer patrol program ending. The 56-year-old said he doesn’t want to experience another increase and fears again seeing “fires everywhere.”
“We are seeing fewer fires, but I think we should keep (the patrols) going,” he added.