AUSTIN (KXAN) — Two people were killed in a 2-alarm fire that ripped through a south Austin apartment complex Monday morning, according to Austin Fire crews.
The fire was first reported at 4:25 a.m. at The Woods on Barton Skyway, according to the Austin Fire Department.
After an initial search, officials said no one was hurt in the fire but in a second search crews found a person was dead in one of the units, Austin Fire Division Chief Thayer Smith told KXAN. Smith wouldn’t give more details as officials are still working to contact the victim’s family.
At 7:30 a.m., officials told KXAN that a second person was found dead in the debris of the fire.
Residents were evacuated as fire crews battled the blaze and officials say the fire started on a balcony of a second-floor apartment and spread to the attic.
“These complexes in this area are notorious for fires and we have had a lot over the years,” Smith said. “Part of the problem with accessing them is that many of them are built into the Greenbelt. Most of them don’t have full access around them — that was the case here — it made it a little more difficult to get back in there but nothing that really slowed us down at all.”
As of 9:15 a.m., Austin fire officials said they hadn’t determined the cause of the fire that originated on the balcony of a second-story apartment. The two people who died were in the apartment where the fire started. Their cause of death is pending an autopsy by the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Hannah Long, whose apartment backs up to those the fire destroyed, says she was worried about all of the trees in the area.
“In that moment, it was so terrifying because it was almost like you could reach out and grab it, and just the idea that it could just jump over here so quickly, I thought these trees would go up like a matchbox,” Long said.
Jessica Balladares-Bennett was one of the residents whose entire apartment was destroyed. She said she never noticed until Monday that the apartments don’t have sprinklers.
“To hear that is very concerning and disappointing to hear,” Balladares-Bennett said, “Especially given that I hadn’t even taken note of that.”
The complex was built before sprinklers were a city code requirement.
Since 2011, two other major fires have been reported at the complex. According to management, one building was rebuilt with standards that are up to current code, following a fire.
The city of Austin says that if more than half of a building is destroyed by fire, then city code requires the owners to rebuild it, and bring it up to current code. Any other buildings within the complex are not required to be upgraded, however.
“If this has happened before and it’s happened again, they should probably tell people to be really careful, knowing it’s happened twice in five years, in less than 5 years,” said Edward Szarkowicz, a former resident.
Officials estimate about $500,000 in structural damage and $250,000 in damage to the contents of the apartments. Nine people were displaced in the fire and the American Red Cross of Central Texas is assisting them.