AUSTIN (KXAN) - A resident at a group home in North Austin confessed to starting a fire Monday morning leaving more than a dozen people without a home police said.
Becca Lynn Gallardo, 26 is charged with first-degree felony arson. Fire investigators say Gallardo admitted to them she set a fire using newspaper tossed into clothing and ignited with a lighter in a room she shared with six other clients.
She told authorities she was 'mad' after an earlier altercation at the home about 4:45 a.m. Staff had put her back to bed after the fight, investigators said.
Just before 6 a.m., crews arrived to find flames shooting out a front window of Hannah's Place at 12251 Running Bird Lane, near Metric Boulevard and Parmer Lane. Crews were able to put out the blaze in less then 10 minutes.
The Austin Fire Department said no one was hurt and staff members were able to evacuate about 30 people from the house. Hannah's Place is a group home for the mentally disabled. Its owner said many of her more than two dozen clients are either bipolar or schizophrenic.
"A lot of smoke damage in the house certainly some easy things replaced like windows and stuff like that but probably going to need to be cleaned up significantly repainted," said Palmer Buck, Battalion Chief for AFD. "We’re going to need to make sure to get the house back up to code to make sure the fire alarm system is working like it’s supposed to we want to make sure it meets all the code compliance for a group home.”
A staff member was doing her rounds when she noticed smoke coming from one of the first floor bedrooms, fire officials said. No one recalled hearing a fire alarm, because it was not working. AFD said it gave a new citation to the owner of the Hannah's Place.
An Austin Fire Department Inspection Report from November 29th, 2011 shows Hannah's Place was cited for not having a working fire alarm system. After Monday's incident, fire inspectors added a second citation: failing to abate a known fire hazard.
Both citations are class C misdemeanors and come with a fine to be determined by a municipal court judge, fire investigators said. The home will remain closed until the city grants a new certificate of occupancy.
"There certainly could have been a tragedy here, the staff did great in getting everybody out but the fact that the staff noticed the smoke coming out rather than our preference which would have been a lot earlier a smoke alarm alerting them is why the citation was issued," said Buck.
Smith said she opened Hannah's Place in 2006 and has been in the 12251 Running Bird Lane location for about three years. She said when she moved in she knew the fire alarm system was not working. Smith said she tried to fix it but didn't have the money to do it.
“It’s not that we didn’t want it on it was a cost that came behind it and with me being a small business and the finances I operate on it’s very budgeted so we weren't able to have it in our budget to get it done," explained Terrie Smith.
Code Compliance staff spent Monday morning going through the building to see if there were further violations. Hannah's was cited earlier this month for having advertising signage in a right-of-way. Last year, two code compliance complaints were addressed, according to City of Austin staff. They included a broken air conditioner in May, 2012 and a complaint about roaches in June 2012.
The Red Cross plans to help the residents, but this situation is a little more complicated than normal relocations because of the special needs of the clientele. It said staff members kept all the clients medicine in a separate building and was able to access it.
Residents are expected to stay in a hotel for about a week.
To help donate clothes and shoes call 512-705-6031 and ask for facility director.
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