AUSTIN (KXAN) — Firefighters spent several hours Tuesday trying to put out a fire at an apartment complex in south Austin. They believe a cigarette caused the blaze.
The Austin Fire Department says the fire started around 2:26 p.m. Tuesday at 4009 Victory Dr., which is the Mission James Place apartments — located east of South Lamar Boulevard and north of West Ben White Boulevard.
When firefighters arrived, flames were shooting out from the roof of the three-story apartment complex.
“It’s heartbreaking to see where I live… where other people live… utterly black,” said Brianna Reimer, who lives at the complex.
AFD initially called for a second alarm to make sure they have enough firefighters at the scene but upgraded to a three-alarm at 2:54 p.m. and then a four-alarm around 3:30 p.m. A total of 100 firefighters were called to help. Smoke could be seen from KXAN’s downtown Austonian camera.
Tony Bauer was working from home when he was told to get out of his unit in Building A. He saw the smoke billowing out from the west side of his building. “I grabbed the important things and got out,” says Bauer.
As he threw his belongings into his car, he waited for news on his apartment, which appears to be a total loss.
AFD says there are no reported injuries at this time. The people who live in the 24 units in Building A will have to be relocated for the time being.
“Flames are like blazin’ crazy,” says Bryce Valdez. “They’re splashing water all over the place. I was kinda scared to be honest. I live in the apartment right next to this, so it could have easily been mine.”
AFD says it appears the fire was caused by a cigarette that was improperly discarded on the second floor. The department says the fire caused approximately $750,000 in structural damage.
“Fire runs pretty freely through the void spots, between the floors, between one floor and the next, and up at the walls, and that’s why you see it travel very quickly to the attic in many cases,” explained Bob Nicks, president of the Austin Firefighters Association.
AFD Division Chief Palmer Buck said this apartment building had some fire-resistant materials built in, but the flames were too intense.
He also said because this is an older building, they weren’t required to have sprinklers.
“Obviously I’d like to have sprinklers,” said Brian Berry, who lives at the complex. “I don’t want this to happen, but it’s a big process, you know, all of the older buildings would have to be, in the entire city would have to be worked on.”
The nearby Ann Richards School is being used as an emergency Red Cross shelter for residents. The school says it is canceling its summer camp Wednesday. It said as of Wednesday morning that the Red Cross found lodging for all evacuees.