AUSTIN (KXAN) - The fire that swept through the Steiner Ranch subdivision in West Austin over the 2011 Labor Day weekend was likely started by arcing electrical lines that came in contact with grass parched by the summer drought, the Travis County Fire Marshal's Office said Tuesday.
"The exceptional drought, low humidity and high winds and temperature combined to create conditions that were ripe for fire ignition," said Fire Marshal Hershel Lee. "We excluded possible ignition sources and found that the electrical lines where the fire most likely started had enough slack to slap and arc, causing molten metal to fall onto combustible grass."
Lee said that his office's investigation concludes that the fire that spread into the Steiner Ranch subdivision started on an undeveloped residential lot just before 4 p.m. Sept. 4, 2011.
The lot was between two occupied homes near Mansfield Drive. The fire moved to the back of the lot at Ranch Road 620 and was carried by embers across the roadway, igniting dry vegetation and moving into the Steiner Ranch subdivision, Lee said.
The power lines in the area are maintained by Austin Energy, but the city-owned utility is withholding judgment on the fire marshal's report.
"Austin Energy has not had an opportunity to review the report and does not have a comment at this time," said Austin Energy spokesman Ed Clark.
The fire damaged or destroyed about 50 homes in the lakeside community. It struck the same day as the Bastrop wildfire that claimed more than 1,500 homes.
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