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Detroit's Heidelberg Project art display devastated by suspicious fires

By David Bailey

(Reuters) - Detroit's Heidelberg Project has been struck by eight suspicious fires since May, the latest on Sunday, which have destroyed a large part of the art installation that has drawn international attention since the 1980s, authorities said.

The art project, started in 1986, displays found objects and recycled materials on homes around Heidelberg Street. The projected was aimed at reclaiming a decaying neighborhood in Detroit, which filed for bankruptcy protection this year.

Investigators from the Detroit Fire Department's arson unit and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are probing the fires, which have burned five houses since early October, ATF spokesman Donald Dawkins said.

Representatives for the Heidelberg Project and artist Tyree Guyton said on Monday they had no comment on the fires or the investigation. Guyton covered area houses with dolls, colorful dots, stuffed animals, vinyl records and other items.

Dawkins said they had not determined a cause of the fire that consumed "The Clock House," covered with images of clocks, on Sunday night. The more recent fires have resulted in total losses, he added.

Dawkins said investigators have not taken any possibility off the table. Detroit was known in the past for arson fires around Halloween, but these have a different tone, he said.

"There have been fires in the area, but nothing really to this extent, that is clustered in one area as these are," Dawkins said. ATF is offering a $5,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible.

Few project houses remain after the fires. Parts of Guyton's project were demolished by city order in 1991 and 1999.

The "Obstruction of Justice House," also known as the OJ House, was damaged extensively by a suspicious fire in May and was destroyed by a second fire in early October.

In November, fires destroyed the "House of Soul" or "Record House," the "Penny House" and on Thanksgiving, the "War Room," the project noted on its website.

Dawkins would not say if an accelerant had been used. The artifacts used in the project - including dolls, clothing and shoes - would accelerate a fire quickly, he said.

"Once you get it going it doesn't take much to keep it going," Dawkins said.

(Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

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