AUSTIN (KXAN) — Propane tank explosions at homeless encampments are to blame for two fires within a span of four days in Austin, according to the Austin Fire Department (AFD).
One fire broke out on Friday in a homeless camp behind Krieg Fields. The other happened Monday at a camp behind a neighborhood off South Congress.
“There was a lot of smoke. It smelled like burning leaves,” said John Middleton, who lives near Monday’s fire.
AFD said that fire got within 30-40 feet of some homes. None were damaged.
“The city’s been emphasizing wildfire protection and putting some buffers by your houses,” said Middleton. “I started thinking ‘should I go out with my little garden hose and do what I can?'”
Antony Jackson with advocacy group We Can Now said he’s working to provide certain fire prevention resources to the homeless community.
“We’re giving gallons and gallons of water to encampments. For hydration purposes, cleaning purposes,” he said. “And it’s the summer time… we know it’s easy for things outside to catch fire, so for those purposes as well to have water around in case anything like that happens.”
Fire officials said when they responded to both Friday’s and Monday’s fires, no one from the camps was there. AFD said that makes it difficult to cite anyone potentially at fault for code violations.
According to a spokesperson for the City of Austin Homeless Strategy Division, the city takes fire risk into account when prioritizing places to enforce the camping ordinance.
AFD said when firefighters do come into contact with members of the homeless community — either at or near a site they’re responding to — AFD shares code and safety information with them.
Jackson said he also works to educate people living in encampments about how to safely manage propane tanks in the heat.
“When a fire takes place in an encampment, who’s going to take the blame for that? Who’s going to be penalized for that?” he said. “People have to survive. We all need to survive as humans. And our homeless population has to find a way to survive outside. And that is the challenge.”