AUSTIN (KXAN) — A massive three-alarm fire at a construction site in south Austin early Thursday quickly became a terrifying ordeal for dozens of residents who lived nearby.
The fire, first reported at 3:40 a.m. at the 4000 block of Banister Lane, spread to nearby apartments. Two apartment buildings were completely destroyed and two or three others badly damaged. About 30 people’s apartments were either badly damaged or completely destroyed.
As crews battled the flames, some scared neighbors spoke to KXAN crews at the scene.
‘Thought it was the apocalypse’
Clay Lancon has lived in a duplex behind the construction site for about a year. He passes it every day on his way to and from work.
“I woke up about an hour ago (3:30 a.m.) to it being hot and the dog freaking out,” Lancon said. “So I came outside and I saw this huge blaze above the trees.”
He had never seen anything like it.
“I thought it was the apocalypse. I just saw a huge fire and I didn’t know what was going on,” he said.
“I was just surprised that it was going up so quick and now it’s all gone.”
‘Just followed protocol’
For seven years, Kiersten Taylor practiced evacuating from her apartment at low-income housing complex, Foundation Communities.
When the commotion started early Thursday, she didn’t know what to think.
“I’ll be honest. Someone was knocking at my door and I did not answer it,” she said. But then the fire alarm went off.
“I got up and I still did not know until I came all the way back here (pointing at the designated evacuation zone), that this (fire) was the reason. I just followed protocol.”
‘People were screaming, ‘Get out!”
Ashley and Sam came home late to an Oak Run apartment after a night out. She saw the fire first.
“There’s just a giant plume of ash coming up from the trees and I told Sam, ‘Oh my gosh, you have to come out here and see this!'” she said. “We ran outside and saw the fire and a car right in front of the house caught on fire.”
The pair say they jumped into action.
“We took a full sprint down all the way to these apartments over here (pointing to nearby homes) and we just started banging on doors saying ‘Get out of your apartment! Get out of your apartment! There’s a fire! There’s a fire,'” Sam said.
Other people joined the pair, trying to get their neighbors out of danger.
“People were screaming and saying ‘Get out of your apartments! Get out,'” Ashley said. “Everybody was banging on doors just trying to wake people up.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it just so many flames and everything was just engulfed,” Sam said. “I live so close and it’s just so surreal to see something like that.”
The fear set in as they watched the flames.
“I was freaked out, you know,” Sam said. “I’m thinking about my dog in my apartment and I’m thinking about my belongings and I’m thinking ‘what am I going to do?’ I have work tomorrow and I’m just so concerned about my entire life in that apartment.”
“One girl —(Sam’s) roommate — was taking somebody’s cat and another girl was just really devastated because her apartment just got completely burned up on the other side of that construction site,” Ashley said.
The light from the fire woke up Monica Blaine.
“I looked at my phone, and I was like, ‘It’s 4 (a.m.). It should be dark out.’ And I peeked open the blinds and [the construction site] was completely engulfed. I’ve never seen anything like that so close to me.”
She lives in an apartment in the Tramor at Oak Run development, separated from the condo site by just a few trees and a fence. The heat was enough to melt the blinds on her windows, and she was afraid the fire was going to break out the glass and spread to her home.
Blaine grabbed her dog, purse, phone and wallet and left the building. “When I was going to the car, embers this size were falling onto the ground like doomsday,” she said, showing with her hands about the size of a basketball, “just all over the parking lot.”
Her apartment building was not one of the two that burned, but she was not able to get another look at it Thursday morning and worried there might be smoke and water damage.
Still, she’s thankful for the fire department’s response, which including hosing down the wall of her apartment closest to the flames. “I thought for sure we were going to come back to none of our stuff,” she said.
‘It got really bad really quickly’
Matt Michaelree says he started hearing loud noises — kind of like small explosions — and so he went to look out of his balcony and saw the blaze.
“It was spreading really quickly,” Michaelree says.
He says he started moving stuff from his back patio and further back into his apartment, but then he noticed flames had entered his apartment through the laundry room window.
“The smoke was getting really bad,” he says. “So I just grabbed my dog and got out.”
Michaelree says he joined other neighbors in going around and trying to wake people up, alerting them to the fire and helping them out.