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Battling Detroit's Arson Epidemic

With so many vacant buildings, firefighters in Detroit are among the busiest in the nation. A new documentary sets out to tell their story

Over at's Video channel, Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg chats with the filmmakers behind Burn, a forthcoming documentary that follows a Detroit fire department company for a full year as they do battle with one of the worst arson rates in the country.

Co-directors Tom Putnam and Brenna Sanchez are still in the editing room on the film, but based on some of the early footage (see below for selected scenes and a teaser trailer), it looks like they've got a powerful story on their hands. Here's how Putnam describes their initial approach:

Our journey as filmmakers, and one of the central questions of the film, is why, in a city with 80,000 abandoned structures, would someone put their lives on the line to save one? What kind of people care about this city, a place many outsiders have written off, enough to put their lives on the line every day to save it?

Footage from Burn shot on an HD helmet cam:

Teaser trailer:


Sanchez and Putnam are also still working on securing the last of their funding. To support the film, visit their Kickstarter page.

About the Author

  • Sommer Mathis
    Sommer Mathis is editor of CityLab. She writes about the intersection of technology and consumer habits, and lives in Washington, D.C.