CEDAR PARK, Texas (KXAN) — Wind speeds combined with low moisture, dry trees, and possible dead limbs and vegetation left over from the winter freeze likely created ideal conditions for a Cedar Park wildfire to spread, according to one fire marshal.
“I’m intimately familiar with their operations,” said Travis County Chief Fire Marshal Tony Callaway, who was previously a fire marshal in Cedar Park. “They have an excellent fire department that did an unbelievable job in their response yesterday and how they handled the situation that was thrown at them.”
On Wednesday, Cedar Park released new aerial video of the approximately 50-acre Parmer Lane wildfire that, by mid-afternoon, was 60% contained. It shows how the fire tore through grass and brush while appearing to stop short and spare dozens of townhomes and apartments. Callaway said the fire appears to have started southeast of the Bexley at Silverado apartments and “migrated up.”
He credits the emergency response on the ground, the separation between the buildings and the nearby undeveloped land and how the structures were built.
“It’s going to be in regards to the materials utilized for the construction of those townhomes, noncombustible exterior walls, proper type of roof material,” Callaway said. “Of course, second to that … you had fire service already on scene that was in a protective mentality to assist with that.”
Exterior walls appear to be made of stucco, which is fire resistant, and the complex would have had an interior sprinkler unit, he said.
‘Home ignition zone’
The National Fire Protection Association offers ways homeowners can protect their property. The NFPA and other experts point to the concept of a “home ignition zone” that highlights the areas most vulnerable to embers — five feet from your door — up to 100 feet away. Each “zone” around a home requires different actions to make it safer during a wildfire.
For example, experts recommend things like landscaping and clearing away dead leaves, debris and pine needles from roofs, lawns and gutters. In Austin, home owners and apartment managers can request a voluntary home ignition zone inspection but it’s not required.
While home ignition zone inspections are voluntary, apartment complexes go through other inspections and reviews — during development and by code enforcement — that would catch potential fire hazards, Callaway said.
“What we’re hitting on in a home ignition zone assessment for a single-family residential home, normally that’s already covered in the development of an apartment complex. It’s already been reviewed and inspected under the commercial basis of the fire code,” Callaway said. “It would be highly unlikely that it wouldn’t already meet the requirements that we’d be looking at for a home ignition zone assessment that we would apply to a residential home. And, I’m sure in this case, that is the situation.”
On Wednesday, multiple fire units — including Austin Fire Department and Texas A&M Forest Service — were on scene outside of the Bexley at Silverado apartment complex on Parmer Lane. One of the apartment buildings caught fire in the attic, according to Cedar Park officials.
“The attic would not have been sprinklered, most likely, due to the [NFPA] 13R System not requiring sprinkler heads in the attic,” he said, noting the standard is to save lives not property.
There are no uniform codes, adopted by local jurisdictions, requiring sprinklers in attics, Callaway said. That’s something he said he would “love to see.”
“Obviously, the more sprinkler heads you have throughout a structure,” he said, “the safer it’s going to be.”
KXAN previously sent the City of Austin a public information request for the number of voluntary home ignition zone inspections conducted yearly. We were told that data does not exist, suggesting it isn’t tracked.
The Travis County Fire Marshal’s office points out resources that can help you find local wildfire information, get guidance to prepare your home, sign up for emergency alerts, and to be wildfire ready.