At a complex of 12 apartments on Whittier in Detroit, all of the meter boxes had been opened and rigged with wires that span the bare connectors and allow power to flow into the units without being measured.
"That's 240 volts going through wires that are barely heavy enough to power a light switch," says Johnson, whose 61-man crew dismantles up to 500 illegal hookups a day. "If someone brushes up against that box, they're gone."
A few blocks away on Kilbourne, a 14-gauge wire runs from a utility pole into a tumble-down home that appears to be barely habitable. The wire snakes across piles of garbage and brush in the backyard before slipping through a hole in the exterior wall.
It's a fire waiting to happen. If a refrigerator or large space heater kicks on, the load could cause the wire to overheat and ignite any combustible material it contacts.
That's what may have happened in two fatal fires last month in Detroit. On March 4, a home on Bangor Street with an illegal hookup burned down, killing Travion Young, 5; Fantasia Young, 4; and Salena Young, 3. Two weeks later, a flophouse in the Cass Corridor burned, killing boarder Travis Marshall, 26. A witness said the illegal wire strung from the electric pole to the back of the hotel was glowing red before the fire started.
For advocates of the poor, the answer is simple: If DTE would stop disconnecting electric and gas services, the need for illegal hook-ups -- and the fire deaths -- would go away."
- The Detroit News