Slaughter Lane church fire caused by an electrical issue, AFD says

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Fire investigators say an electrical issue sparked a fire that damaged a building on a south Austin church campus early Wednesday morning.

The call came shortly after midnight on Wednesday at the Westoak Woods Baptist Church. The church is located on W. Slaughter Lane near West Gate Boulevard.

According to a tweet from the Austin Fire Department, the fire happened in a building connected to the church and not inside the sanctuary. Crews say the fire is contained to that building and did not spread.

The metal roof contained the fire to the classroom, firefighters said, but it also made it more difficult to fight.

“We actually like when fire goes through the roof, because it takes all the smoke with it. It opens it up,” AFD Battalion Chief Matt Cox said. “Metal roofs are great for everyone except when we’re trying to fight fire because it does keep it contained.”

It took firefighters 45 minutes to contain the fire, with crews saying it grew to be powerful when the fire couldn’t burn through the metal roof, like it might with other types of roofing. Cox said that made it unsafe for firefighters to cut a hole in the roof for ventilation.

“Heat rises,” explained Austin Fire Marshal Tom Vocke, “So if we can get that hole in the roof, that’s the best practice for us, ventilating. But, if the fire’s already progressed to a point where the officers on the scene aren’t comfortable with putting people on the roof, then at that point, we’re limited to horizontal over vertical ventilation.”

Vocke says fighting a fire horizontally through windows and doors is much less effective.

No one was hurt, and the fire did not spread to other buildings like the church’s worship center or preschool classrooms. It was contained to the Community Ministries building.

Vocke says the same roof that held firefighters back could have also helped keep it from spreading to other buildings nearby.

“With the metal roof staying in place on a structure fire, it keeps the embers from that fire in and doesn’t allow them to spread to other structures,” Vocke said.

Vocke says that’s why AFD actually encourages metal roofing in spots where homes or buildings are close together or in areas with high wildfire risk.

Vocke says the most important thing with metal roofing is catching a fire right away, before it burns for too long.
In the church’s case, it was late, and no one was around to hear the alarms at first. Vocke says it’s best to have working smoke detectors along with an alarm system that notifies someone right away and gets firefighters in quickly.

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