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Suspicious fires plague Detroit's popular Heidelberg Project

By Sho Wills, CNN
updated 7:04 PM EST, Thu November 21, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Fire destroys fourth house in internationally known Detroit art installation
  • "The Penny House" was leveled in latest fire at Heidelberg Project
  • "Something is definitely going on there," says senior fire chief

(CNN) -- The latest in a string of suspicious fires early Thursday destroyed a home in Detroit's internationally known Heidelberg Project, an installation that transformed decaying homes into works of art.

The blaze engulfed "The Penny House," a small home adorned with images of pennies, around 3 a.m., fire officials said. The two-story structure was leveled by the time firefighters arrived.

The nonprofit behind that artwork set out to bring new life to Detroit's crime-ridden East Side and draw attention to the community's plight. The project was recently featured by CNN's Anthony Bordain on "Parts Unknown: Detroit."

In the last two months, Heidelberg Project properties were hit with five fires, which destroyed three of the vacant buildings -- "Obstruction of Justice," "House of Soul" and "The Penny House," according to the project. Only four properties remain in the installation, which draws about 300,000 visitors from around the world each year.

Detroit Senior Fire Chief Larry Gassel voiced his suspicions about the fires to CNN, saying of the buildings, "They're all vacant; it's not like it's wiring. So something is definitely going on there."

Detroit has long battled waves of arson.

No arrests have been made in connection with the fires. Heidelberg Project staff said city's slow emergency response times were partly to blame for the destruction of the buildings.

"It's kind of our thinking that this individual keeps doing this knows [because] he can get away with it," Katie Hearn, marketing coordinator for Heidelberg Project told CNN.

Artist Tyree Guyton created the Heidelberg Project in 1986, slowly bringing decaying homes back to life with decorations. The group's annual fundraiser was to be held Thursday night.

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