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'They just let it burn.' Owner of Detroit home that caught fire speaks out over controversial firefighter photo

Posted at 4:31 PM, Jan 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-03 18:19:20-05

DETROIT (WXYZ) — The man whose mother owned a Detroit home where firefighters posed for a picture in front of the burning house spoke to 7 Action News, saying he's at a loss for words at what happened.

The photo was posted to social media earlier this week and happened at a home in southwest Detroit.

'They just let it burn.' Owner of Detroit home that caught fire speaks out over controversial firefighter photo

The department originally told 7 Action News it was occupied, but 21-year-old Deontae Higginbotham tells us his family has owned the home for decades.

According to Deontae, the home was being renovated for his elderly mother.

"I couldn't believe it. I'm at a loss for words that they just let it burn all the way to the ground," he told Kiertzner.

Pictures on the city's website show the house on Green St. had an on owner, 70-year-old Dorothy Higginbotham. The city also had a picture of the house dated 2014 with a woman walking out the front door.

Deontae gave us pictures that show them renovating the home, all the way down to the studs. It showed they had installed new kitchen cabinet and a new wooden stairway banister, renovations that had been going on for months.

The family has owned the home for 50 years, he said, and it was a gift to Dorothy, who suffers from dementia.

Detroit fire officials say the now viral photo was taken on New Year's Eve to celebrate the retirement of a Battalion Chief, and that the house was vacant.

But sources inside the department have given 7 Action News a clip of radio traffic with Ladder 13 on the scene talking with dispatch, that the house was a total loss.

"Radio 13 is unable to do a complete search due to structural collapse," you can hear in the radio traffic.

"Was that occupied or vacant, Ladder 13?" the dispatcher asks.

"Occupied," they respond.

Deontae heard that for the first time.

"They need to be fired and they need to do their job. They're called firefighters for a reason," he said.

The house on Green St. is now only a pile of rubble, and the family wants answers.

We're still waiting for city officials to explain what really happened, and what disciplinary action will be taken.