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`Angels' keeping fire out of Devil's Night

You won't hear city officials refer to it by that other name, the night of the year when fires used to turn the sky above the Motor City orange and red.

Devil's Night, the annual pre-Halloween arson fest, is on its way to being extinguished, city officials say. Detroit has a new annual celebration - Angels' Night, in honor of the thousands of volunteers who make sure their neighborhoods aren't put to the torch."We've taken the `devil' out of Devil's Night and given Halloween back to children," Mayor Dennis Archer said at a news conference kicking off the Angels' Night campaign last month.

Since 1984, Michigan's largest city has seen the number of fires at this time of the year drop every year except 1994. Total fires during the three-day period leading to Halloween fell from 810 in 1984 to 142 last year - fewer than a typical three days in the city of 1 million.

"We've turned it into a celebration vs. a time to fear," said John George, founder of the nonprofit Motor City Blight Busters, a group that organizes volunteers to patrol city neighborhoods.

George said his organization had campaigned for years to get Archer and his predecessor Coleman Young to officially call Oct. 30 "Angels' Night." But it wasn't until this year that Archer announced the name change.

The turnaround didn't come easy.

Archer feared a repeat of 1994, his first year as mayor when the number of fires jumped to 354. The mayor redoubled his efforts after that, enacting curfews for juveniles and recruiting neighborhood volunteers to watch houses and patrol the streets in an effort to stop arsonists.

Some city officials are hesitant to say Devil's Night is over.

"It's not over, not by a long shot," said Fire Commissioner Harold Watkins, who has been in the department for 43 years.