Crews battled at least five fires in Flint on Thursday, the same day the city began laying off a quarter of its firefighters as part of an effort to close its estimated $8 million budget deficit.
The early morning fires broke out at four vacant homes and an empty 4-story apartment building, Battalion Chief Andy Graves said. They follow four fires at vacant homes Wednesday that Graves said left one firefighter injured when a ceiling collapsed and another firefighter burned.
"They're all being investigated as suspicious," Graves said.
Mayor Dayne Walling said Wednesday that barring a last-minute agreement with unions, the city expected to lay off 23 of 88 firefighters and 46 of 150 police officers, nearly a third of the city's police officers.
A message seeking comment was left Thursday morning for a city spokeswoman.
Some Fire Department layoffs took effect Thursday as firefighters came off duty, Graves said, while others were to take effect Friday. Flint is closing two of its five fire stations as part of the cost-cutting effort.
A firefighters union official said Walling's layoffs were an open invitation to arsonists.
"The mayor painted a pretty appealing picture for them," said Mark Kovach, vice president of Flint Firefighters Union Local 352. He said the layoffs leave Flint with half the firefighters it needs to adequately do the job.
The battered industrial city has been hard-hit by the loss of tens of thousands of auto industry jobs over recent decades. Its population has fallen to about 115,000 from a peak of about 197,000, leaving behind crumbling neighborhoods and vacant homes.
A person of interest was spotted at the scene of some of the fires Thursday, but Graves didn't know whether investigators spoke with that person.
A message seeking details was left Wednesday for police.
The firefighters injured Wednesday were treated at a hospital and released, Graves said. Kovach said one had second-degree burns and the other had a concussion from a roof collapse.