AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Fire Department and arson investigators are looking for an unknown suspect that threw a lit firework from a moving vehicle — catching a homeless couple’s tent on fire.
The person threw the firework from the off-ramp at North I-35 near Airport Boulevard Wednesday at 2:45 p.m. The firework landed on the pavement, lighting grass and the tent on fire, according to AFD.
The couple who lives inside the tent was not home when it happened. They were shocked to hear that their tent was up in flames.
“There’s propane, there’s Glade, there’s Febreeze and there are kids right across the street. And when these things start exploding against the concrete wall, those things start flying and bursting and they will set something else on fire,” said Arlene Page, who lives in the tent.
Leaders at the St. George Episcopal church across the street have bought the couple a new tent. Tarik Wish, who works as a teacher’s assistant at the church’s preschool, was the first on the scene of the fire. He controlled the blaze with a fire extinguisher until the fire department arrived.
“At first I thought it was a gas bomb or a Molotov cocktail because it was burning like nothing else,” Wish said.
In a statement about the incident, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said:
“We must condemn attacks like these and agree that there is no place in Austin for such illegal and horrific conduct. As planned, we’ll continue to further develop city homelessness policies in August. We’ll get this done only if we will do this together respecting and hearing all voices, except those that seek to harm others.”
Chris Harris with the Homes Not Handcuffs Coalition said he’s noticed a collective-hate spreading from some Austinites.
“A lot of dehumanization of people experiencing homelessness unfortunately has been spread. A lot of fear-mongering and a lot of hate,” Harris said. “”When you have rhetoric like that in your community that goes unchallenged and unchecked, it’s not surprising that you have some people that act violently.”
Harris has called on all city leaders to condemn the attack and for all of us to show more empathy.
“People keep asking us what we need. We need just what you guys need. Some toilet paper, some trash bags. We need to just be able to live and survive,” Page said.
The Austin Fire Department is asking for the public’s help identifying the vehicle or person connected to this incident. Call Crimestoppers or AFD’s Arson office (512) 974-0240 with any information.
NOTE: The silver pickup in the photo is not associated with this incident.