The scene on Detroit's Beals Street the night before Halloween was typical.
Steam floated off a firefighter's gear, wet from a previous fire hours ago, as he worked a 2-1/2-inch line by himself, trying to keep rolling fire in a vacant building from taking the occupied house next to it. Welcome to Devil's Night 2013.
It rained off and on this year, but it didn't dampen the enthusiasm of those who come to the Motor City the night before Halloween to observe and for some, participate in the annual ritual of burning buildings.
The city fathers who still try to put a positive spin on the activity, now stand in threadbare suits as a judge prepares to rule on whether the city can file a Chapter 9 bankruptcy, shedding previous administrations debts, and all but wiping out firefighters' pensions and healthcare provisions in the process.
A few years ago, they tried to change the name to Angel's Night but the name caught on with only groups of the city's cheerleaders. To Detroit firefighters and those who come to watch them, it's still Devil's Night.
This year, the city touted the large number of volunteer fire watchers, wearing orange Angel's Night tee shirts and who patrol the city in their cars equipped with blinking yellow lights.
They certainly missed the person who lit up the Beals Street job, and congregated afterward at a neighborhood headquarters where they were consoled with hot dogs and hot drinks, one of many spots paid for by the city that night to help support their efforts.
The anguish of a man, feeling the intense heat of a fire in three vacant buildings on Lillybridge Street was caught on camera as he watched to see if his house across the street would be the next victim. It took a while for companies to arrive at this inferno. Arsonists set another fire just before around the corner, and the number of closed firehouses in the area required responses from much farther away.
Historians tell us that the origins of Devil's Night in the 80's were because of civil unrest and protest. In those days, there would be upwards of 800 fires in the three days surrounding Halloween with hundreds of fire buffs and newspersons flocking to Detroit to watch and report on the spectacle.
Over the years, like a lake shore amusement park seeing better days behind it and eventually closing, the fires themselves dwindled and eventually, as the money and jobs in the Motor City ran out, Devil's Night has become just a shadow of its former self.
The city still likes to think that the drama still exists. Hundreds of police officers drawn to the city to help Detroit's finest, show a rag-tag, casual-combat presence meant to deter would-be arsonists.
At the Lillybridge fire, around 20 officers had little to do but tell the fire buffs to move back. On Beals Street, officers from Detroit along with those from ATF, Customs and even Homeland Security Police (what do they do?) surrounded the building and watched as the roof burned away so the ladder pipe could its job.
City officials touted the increased police presence as keeping the number of arson fires at a low level, but the fact remains that even with the influx of hundreds of cops, no one was arrested this year for starting a fire.
You would think that someone in the city administration would had the foresight to spend that overtime money on bringing in extra firefighters.
When the overtime money ran out, all the extra help went home.
An early morning fire on Maxwell Street had a 2-1/2 story building going throughout. No yellow blinky lights or combat-ready government troops -- just a single Detroit police car stopped by and then left when things got boring. Nor were they needed. The buff photographers who stopped by were well mannered and did not need corralling.