Michigan Officials Still Investigating Detroit Wind-Swept Fires

September 7, 2011

State officials are still investigating the causes behind wind-swept fires that burned last year in a number of Detroit neighborhoods, and the response by a city utility to reports of power outages and downed wires.

The Michigan Public Service Commission, which issued a report in December on Detroit Edison’s actions during the fire storm, is taking its time to complete the investigation, chairman Orjiakor N. Isiogu told the Detroit Free Press in a story Saturday.

Wind gusts of 50 mph were blamed for knocking down power lines on Sept. 7, 2010, and spreading flames across Detroit. More than 70 houses and garages, mostly vacant, caught fire. Twenty-nine occupied homes were destroyed.

“We really have to take our time with this one,” Isiogu said. “It’s not very unusual at all, especially given the magnitude of the problem.”

Frequent power outages are a concern, he added.

“We really want to make sure we take our time and do it carefully,” Isiogu said. “We are looking at a long-term solution.”

Some residents complained that officials were slow to remove power lines knocked down by the high winds.

But the commission’s report in December said available evidence did not indicate neglect on the part of Detroit Edison. Records showed the utility had more than 1,900 employees assisting in the restoration efforts and that response times to outages and downed wires were better than average.

The city is considering an ordinance under which DTE Energy Co. could be charged for the time Detroit firefighters stand guard over fallen power lines. Detroit Edison is a subsidiary of DTE Energy.

A public hearing is needed to determine what other issues there may be, Councilwoman JoAnn Watson told the newspaper.

DTE Energy has made changes since the fires. The utility now has a liaison working with Detroit police and firefighters when storms roll into the area, said service operations director Paul Whitman.

Additional linemen also work during afternoons and at night to respond to fallen wires and power outages, he added.

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