The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Highland Park, MI:
A deadly fire set by social neglect

Nov 3, 2008

A 51-year-old woman, with her great niece and two great nephews, died in a fire that burned through five frame homes in Highland Park, Michigan. Her family, which also included the children’s mother and three other people, had rented one of the houses only a short time before. They were paying $300 a month rent, yet the house had no heat, no water, and no working toilet, only a bucket. They were using a kerosene space heater for heat, and an electric hot plate to cook with. They carried water back to the house from a block away.

After first blaming the space heater, then the hot plate, fire officials finally admitted it was probably faulty wiring that set this house on fire, then spread to four others.

In the early morning hours when the fire erupted, dozens of neighbors gathered in the street. Many expressed anger that there weren’t enough firefighters on hand to put out the fire. Only one ladder truck came for five blazing houses. Others denounced the lack of water pressure in nearby fire hydrants. More than 700 people turned out for the funeral to show their support for the family – and anger at a constantly worsening situation.

How is it possible such conditions could have existed all this time, laying the foundation for this tragedy? The house had not been inspected for years. The landlord, who was ready to take the family’s $300, says it wasn’t his responsibility to provide a safe building. The City of Highland Park says it isn’t responsible – it got rid of its inspectors when the city went broke in 2002. The State of Michigan, which took over the city finances, says it wasn’t responsible to take over inspecting rental properties.

Highland Park drastically cut its fire department and has to get help from the City of Detroit, which has drastically cut its own fire department, too.

More and more the very heart of some of the biggest cities in this wealthy country are resembling cities in poor countries around the world. This is what capitalism has to offer people living in its very center.