Abandoned and vacant houses are being torn down more often this year in Detroit, but not fast enough to ease concerns that they will make ample and inviting targets for fires heading into the annual Angels' Night period.
City officials on Friday made a pitch to Detroit residents, asking them to keep an eye on their neighborhoods by patrolling streets and even just sitting on porches over the Oct. 29-31 Halloween period.
The city is well into demolishing about 3,000 of an estimated 33,000 abandoned houses before the end of the year. Funding is available to tear down another 3,000 in 2010.
"We can't do it all in a short period of time," Mayor Dave Bing said during the kickoff of the anti-arson campaign. "If we had another thousand firemen and 2,000 police officers, they couldn't do it all.
"We are undermanned, understaffed, don't have all the equipment we need, don't have all the technology we need. But we are not going to use that as an excuse."
Oct. 31 has been a day of trepidation in Detroit for more than two decades. Originally known as Devils' Night, it had been a time of teenage mischief when cars were egged and toilet paper was draped around trees, bushes and porches. It evolved into a night of terror as firebugs and insurance scammers began torching vacant houses and garages.
Many of the burned houses that remained standing became targets in subsequent years. At its peak in 1984, 810 fires were reported in Detroit from Oct. 29 to 31.
Angels' Night reflects the city's and residents' efforts to fight back. More than 30,000 volunteers took part in a lookout effort last year.
The theme of this year's volunteer campaign is "Watch Your Block." The city is hoping to again flood streets with volunteers -- on foot and in cars.
Strict enforcement of the curfew ordinance is aimed at keeping teenagers and children indoors.
On Oct. 29 and Oct. 30, those 17 and younger are not allowed on city streets without a parent or guardian between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. the next day. On Oct. 31, those 15 years old and younger have to be indoors between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. the next day. The Oct. 31 curfew for 16- and 17-year-olds is 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Parents of violators could face fines of $50 to $500.
The city also has restricted gas stations from allowing fuel to be pumped into anything but approved containers from Oct. 28 to 31.
"Everybody has a role in protecting what's ours," said Stephanie Young, a coordinator of the campaign.