“It’s not safe here. It’s a war zone,” Terrence Coleman, a 52-year-old resident, said as embers from a blaze on Detroit’s east side rained down on him. “This whole neighborhood is going to burn down one day, I’m afraid.”

As firefighters attacked flames raging in two adjacent vacant houses, they called for backup equipment that never came. Five blazes had broken out in 25 minutes, all suspected arsons, and the Detroit Fire Department, where budget cuts have led to a crippling shortage of equipment and manpower, could provide no extra help.

In the next two hours, at least 10 more suspicious fires broke out, leaving skeleton crews to battle the blazes.

In Detroit, arsons are so frequent – about 5,000 estimated last year by the Detroit Fire Department – that authorities can only investigate about one of every five suspicious fire cases, Fire Commissioner Don Austin said.