85-year-old woman's home destroyed by fire, firefighters say closed stations are much to blame

DETROIT (WXYZ) - "My heart just sunk," said one firefighter about the moment 85-year-old Juanita Burgess asked if it was okay if she returned to her home to retrieve some belongings.

They had to tell Burgess there was nothing to save.

"She had nothing but her dog," said one of the Detroit firefighters who place much of the blame on the closure of a number of other fire companies, some of the casualties of Detroit's cash crisis.

Detroit's Engine 33 was dispatched from their firehouse in southwest Detroit and it took them 21 minutes to drive to Burgess' home on the 19900 block of Oakfield all the way in northwest Detroit.

By the time Engine 33 arrived, the home Burgess has lived in for nearly half her life was destroyed.

One firefighter said they couldn't believe how far they had to travel to get to Burgess' home, calling it "the longest ride of my life."

Fire Commissioner Don Austin says part of the reason they had to travel such a long distance is that there were three other fires taking place at the same time, causing resources to be stretched.

When asked about the closure of 15 companies since June, Commissioner Austin said, "We are providing the best fire protection we can with the resources we have."

"It's embarrassing, absolutely embarrassing," said one firefighter.

A smoke alarm woke Burgess up around 3:15 a.m. on Saturday. She asked a neighbor to call 911 and left with only her small dog.

Firefighters say the fire that started in the basement should have easily been contained there with a proper response.

Juanita Burgess lived alone in the home. And neighbors say they often saw her catching the bus to take to the nursing home where her son is a patient. They say just about every day Burgess makes the trip to feed him and spend time with him.

A relative of Burgess says she is looking for a new home or apartment where she can maintain some independence.

It's unclear what started the fire. Firefighters suspect it was an electrical problem in the basement.

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