AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Fire Department and Austin-Travis County EMS responded to a three-alarm apartment fire early Friday morning.
ATCEMS said six ambulances responded to the Ventura Apartments at 9133 Northgate Blvd. between West Rundberg Lane and U.S. Highway 183.
Upon arrival, AFD said the top portion of the complex was engulfed in flames. More than 100 AFD firefighters responded to the scene, and AFD Assistant Chief Brandon Wade said all 40 units were damaged by either fire or water, which most likely will displace everyone who lives there.
As of ATCEMS’ update via Twitter at 5:15 a.m., at least four people were taken to hospitals for treatment. Two of the people have critical, life-threatening injuries and were taken to Dell Seton Medical Center, one with burns and another with smoke inhalation. Two others were taken to St. David’s Medical Center with injuries not considered life-threatening. Four other people didn’t want to be taken to a hospital.
“I came outside, and I was in my underwear, and it was way down there,” said Glen Whitten. “I put my pants and shoes on, and all of a sudden the fire was right outside my door.”
Whitten’s 5 a.m. wakeup call came from a neighbor banging on his door yelling ‘FIRE!’
“I told everyone in [the Red Cross Center]. There were about 30 people in there. I said, ‘This man saved our lives, y’all give him a hand.'”
A group of ladies standing outside the Ventura Apartments Friday afternoon said Whitten’s new-found hero also saved them, too. KXAN asked them if their fire alarms happened to go off.
“We have them, but no they did not go off,” said Wanda Jones.
While firefighters investigate whether or not sprinkler systems or smoke alarms were intact, the American Red Cross estimates about 50 to 60 people are now in need of permanent housing.
“We’re looking at sheltering in the City of Austin to make sure they are taken care of for the next two to three days,” said Danella Hughes, American Red Cross. “Long-term housing is not something we do, but we are conveyers of long-term housing, so we’ll look at other partners to see if they have any other options.”
The Austin Disaster Relief Network, made up of area churches, is also helping those in search of a new home.
“This is difficult for those that are living in a tight income situation, so we want to be able to help those families however we can,” said Stephen Brewer, ADRN associate director. “Austin continues to be a challenge in a good way when it comes to needing housing. I’d imagine these survivors might find themselves in a difficult situation when trying to figure out what’s next.”
ADRN said it’s working on the immediate needs first, like preparing hygiene kits for those who lost everything.
People who wish to help the survivors can go to ADRN.org to donate to the general disaster fund. The network also has a ‘Hope Family Thrift Store’ setup at 1122 W. 51st St. where people can go to get clothes and essential needs. The network also accepts tangible donations there, too.
When KXAN arrived dozens of residents were standing outside in freezing temperatures. Some were wearing only t-shirts and shorts, while others had pets.
Capital Metro brought in buses to the complex to help keep people warm in below-freezing temperatures while crews put the fire out.
A man KXAN talked to on scene said he was having a dream about a fire, and the dream turned out to be real. He said he only had enough time to grab his wife and a jacket before evacuating from his home. Not everyone could grab a jacket, and they were left standing in the cold waiting to learn about their home.
According to paramedics, the call came in around 4 a.m. and within 30 minutes the call escalated with a need for more help.
During a briefing Friday, AFD said it was able to save several pets from the building, including a possum. The cause of the fire was undetermined as of Friday afternoon. AFD reminded people to use care when operating space heaters and other portable devices during cold weather. AFD also said to make sure there are working smoke detectors in your home.
Austin Fire said the damage to the structure was $1 million and $250,000 to the contents. More than 30 residents were displaced and are being assisted by the Red Cross.
KXAN wanted to know if COVID-19 has had an impact on staffing or response times for calls.
“Response times we are still doing good,” said Brandon Wade, assistant chief with the AFD. “We do have a large number of the workforce that are out with COVID, but the AFD is fully staffed every day so far. We still have four person staffing on our trucks and all of our trucks are operational and that’s what makes a difference.”