Vandals set more than 400 fires on "Devil's Night" Tuesday, but city officials said today that beefed-up police and fire patrols and faster response times helped keep damage below last year's record toll.
Fire Commissioner Melvin Jefferson said city firefighters, assisted by suburban crews, made 410 runs between 4 p.m. and midnight Tuesday. Twelve people, mostly in their teens and early 20s, were arrested for suspected arson, he said.
Most of the fires were set in garbage receptacles, but some vacant garages, homes and cars also were torched, Jefferson said. Eight firefighters suffered minor injuries, he said.
Devil's Night has been a pre-Halloween tradition in Detroit for nearly 40 years, but arson did not become a major problem until 1982. Firefighters in 1983 were unable to keep up with the rash of fires, many of which were set by youngsters.
"The difference this year is we have things under control," Jefferson said. "Our manpower has been beefed up 33 percent."
About 100 fires are reported in Detroit during a normal 24-hour period, the commissioner said.
Mayor Coleman A. Young planned a major offensive against Devil's Night vandalism in the wake of a near riot Oct. 14 after the Detroit Tigers' World Series victory. Stung by criticism about the city's failure to contain the violence, the mayor quadrupled police patrols and ordered strict enforcement of the city curfew for those under 17.
Young, a longtime opponent of gun-control legislation, also is considering an ordinance that would outlaw the private possession and sale of handguns in Detroit. The violence after the World Series and recent juvenile shootings have led community groups to demand strict new measures to deal with city crime.
Young is expected to discuss the measures at a community summit on crime scheduled Nov. 27.
There are an estimated 1.5 million handguns in Detroit, which has a population of about 1.2 million and leads the nation's major cities in gun-related murder and robbery. Since July 1, at least 105 persons under age 17 have been shot in Detroit,, and seven of them have died.
Meanwhile, a group of senior citizens from Indiana whose bus was rocked and looted during the violent World Series celebration will get a second chance to see the Renaissance City -- for free.
During their first trip two weeks ago, the senior citizens' bus was attacked, and all all but 14 of their 47 suitcases were stolen.
Organizers of the return trip, including a travel agency, said the city wanted to make it up to the group with two days and two nights on the town free of charge. The group is to return here Nov. 10 on a luxury bus, complete with a bar and a dozen color television sets showing travelogues about the city.