Condo project, apartments in ashes
Massive fire displaces at least two dozen from their South Austin homes, fire officials say
A massive fire early Thursday destroyed a South Austin condo building under construction and two neighboring apartment buildings, displacing at least two dozen from their homes, fire officials said.
Austin-Travis County EMS medics took one woman to St. David's South Austin Medical Center with minor injuries as she tried to escape the fire, along with a firefighter who became dehydrated. Fire officials said several pets may have died in the blaze.
Firefighters responded around 3:40 a.m. to the 4000 block of Banister Lane, just north of Texas 71/Ben White Boulevard. That portion of Banister was closed for much of Thursday as fire personnel worked the scene.
Hours after fire crews doused the blaze, plumes of smoke still billowed from piles of charred wood as firefighters sprayed water from a large hose over the shattered guts of the property.
All that remained were a large stone column and a few metal supports that were leaning over at varying degrees.
Apartment buildings that flanked the western edge of the property under construction also burned down with nothing but their frames visible.
Wyatt Anderson, 26, lived in the apartment complex behind the property and said his unit was just out of the fire’s reach.
Anderson was asleep early Thursday when firefighters banged on his front door to get him out of his building.
When he walked out, he saw an inferno.
“Across from the pool, that building was completed demolished, along with another eight different cars that were all burnt to a crisp,” Anderson said. “I was about as close as you could get to it without being personally affected.”
Anderson pointed to a canopy of trees surrounding the torched property, wondering if they could have caught fire and made the blaze even worse.
Austin Fire Division Chief Thayer Smith said Anderson’s unit was one of 16 that were occupied and had to be evacuated. Austin fire officials later said 26 residents were displaced from 12 of those apartments.
Smith said the canopy of trees had nothing to do with the fire’s spread. He said the heat emanating from the structure on Banister Lane was so intense that the fire easily jumped to surrounding buildings.
Smith said the building under construction was in a phase firefighters refer to as a vertical lumber yard, essentially a massive structure rising three stories and stretching for a block with nothing inside but wood. There was no sheet rock to slow the flames, and no sprinklers to kick on before fire crews arrived.
Smith said the fire wouldn’t have taken long to spread at all.
“You just had an amazing fire load and nothing to stop it,” he said.
The fire burned nearby power lines, which led to power outages in the area. Austin Energy reported that as many as 1,000 customers were without electricity but power restoration was ongoing.
Austin school district officials assured parents that nearby Galindo Elementary School would not be affected by the outages and classes continued as scheduled.
Smith told KXAN-TV that, in addition to the three-story building under construction and the two neighboring apartment buildings that were destroyed, two to three other buildings were partially damaged.
Fire officials gave an early damage cost estimate of $2 million but had yet to determine a cause for the fire on Thursday, Smith said.
#ATCEMS is on scene of a Structure Fire at 4000blk Bannister Ln. Thus far,#ATCEMSMedics have obtained 1 refusal, and 1 female patient has been transported to South Austin Medical Center with minor, non life threatening injuries related to evacuation. More information to follow.— ATCEMS (@ATCEMS)September 19, 2019
Fire in the vicinity of@GalindoElem will NOT impact school. Power has been restored at the campus and school is under normal schedule. Banister & 71 is currently closed, use an alternate routes.@AustinISD@aisdparents@nicolekConley@AISDSupt#ATX#ATXnews@CapMetroATXpic.twitter.com/ln8u3Yqgv7— Chief Ashley A. Gonzalez (@chiefagonzalez)September 19, 2019
Box Alarm - 4004 Banister Ln - Fully involves structure - remain clear of the areapic.twitter.com/y8VJHX8GaV— Austin Fire Info (@AustinFireInfo)September 19, 2019