He fights blight because it hit close to home
But there’s something else that concerns at least one member of the newly announced Detroit Blight Authority.
Second generation firefighter James Hill Harris knows how dangerous empty, blighted buildings can be.
He knows the opportunity for arson is incredible here because of these vacant structures that are everywhere.
Many of the homes are burned over and over again. He says firefighters are sent to these buildings an average of four times
When a house near Kirby and Sheridan was torched in 2008, Harris’ father was one of the firefighters who responded. The 17 year veteran, Walter Harris, was killed in that fire – a victim of arson… and blight.
“We go inside these places and it’s a small fire but the building fell down on him because it had burned 3 or 4 times before,” Harris explains. “And that’s what we’re trying to eliminate.”
So James Harris became an arson investigator. Now, he’s a member of the board of directors of the Detroit Blight Authority. His hope is that the strategy of clearing entire areas will mean he has fewer arsons to investigate.
“I wanted to be part of it. It made sense. Things should make sense.”
The group hopes to come up with enough money to clear 3 or four more areas in the city. One of the next may be in the Gratiot/Houston-Whittier area, one of the busiest areas for firefighters.
Harris says, “My dad was 38 years old, he left behind 6 boys and we miss him everyday, we miss him every day . This is the way we honor him.”
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