AUSTIN (KXAN) — As sparklers and firecrackers are ready for lighting for Independence Day this Sunday, Austin Fire Department has a grim warning for residents.
Late Saturday, July 3, AFD crews reported to Donahue Lane in southeast Austin, where two homes were incinerated after AFD says fireworks set the duplex aflame.
“THIS is why fireworks are illegal in the City of Austin!! Now 2 families have lost their cars and have significant damage to their homes. Security cameras captured the event as fireworks landed in the carport of this duplex on Donahue Ln.”Austin Fire Department
The inferno was reported around 11 p.m. and AFD crews extinguished the flames by midnight. The department says crews were able to contain the fire to vehicles, a carport and an attic — despite severe damage. AFD says 7 residents and some visitors at the duplex were displaced.
Fire officials also noted there was $200,000 worth of damage, in total.
“I lost some stuff, but those are material things that can be replaced, but I just thank God that my grandkids were visiting and we all got out safe,” Ofelia Garcia said, through tears.
She said her grandkids helped her scale a fence to get to safety when the flames started to spread.
On the other side of the duplex wall, Valerie Gomez said she was asleep when neighbors woke her up, banging on her windows and door.
“My husband ran straight to my room and kicked the door and dragged me from my bed. I couldn’t see. The house was already full of smoke from all the fire,” Gomez told KXAN News. “I thought I was going to die. Literally.”
She said she had been hearing fireworks all day, but by nightfall, they sounded too close to the house.
“We were really scared. Me and my husband, we were trembling scared,” she said.
Gomez said her husbands truck was one of the cars destroyed in the fire, along with hundreds of dollars of tools. She said she believes it was on fire for more than 20 minutes before anyone called 911.
“But we’re strong. We’ll get through this,” she said, with hope.
Both families were able to go back in and salvage what they could. Both the Gomez and Garcia family have set up GoFundMe fundraisers to try and help them on the road to repairs.
Setting off fireworks in the Austin city limits can also come with a hefty $568 fine, AFD says. Additionally, a resident can face felony arson or assault charges if someone is injured or property is damaged.
Four juveniles were cited with misdemeanors for reckless destruction of property, at the Donahue Lane fire.
DID YOU KNOW? In addition to lighting them up, it’s also illegal to have or sell fireworks within 5,000 feet of the city limits.
Items that are legal for residents to spark include:
- Sparklers with wooden sticks, not wire sticks
- Smoke bombs
- Glow worms or snakes
- Poppers, trick noisemakers or snappers
AFD says fireworks complaints should be reported to Austin 3-1-1, not 9-1-1. As of Sunday night, the city’s 3-1-1 call log showed dozens of complaints had already been submitted for fireworks noise complaints.
“I’ve seen neighborhoods where the whole block is shooting them,” AFD Division Chief Thayer Smith told KXAN. “We simply don’t have the manpower to get to everybody and enforce it.”
AFD said two enforcement crews, each made up of an arson investigator and a fire inspector, will be patrolling through the holiday weekend. Smith said APD will also be responding to calls.
“We’re kind of expecting this year to be a little higher now that everybody is actually out, back with family and able to go and buy the fireworks from the stands outside the city limits,” Smith said. “Thus far, we really haven’t seen the call volume we might have expected.”
He said they do prioritize ‘hot-spots,’ where multiple calls come from one area.
“Some of the denser areas obviously are a concern for us, where those fireworks can land and get something going,” he went on.