AUSTIN (KXAN) — The state-sponsored homeless camp in southeast Austin caught fire early Friday morning. The Austin Fire Department says four of 11 units there suffered damage but no one was hurt.
AFD said the fire started around 4:20 a.m. Friday. They have not yet determined a cause, but the occupant of the area where the fire started said it was some sort of electrical fire.
More than 100 people live at the encampment. It exists on land the Texas Department of Transportation owns off U.S. Highway 183 near Montopolis. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott first designated it as an encampment site in November 2019 during one of the flashpoints in the debate over Austin’s homelessness policies.
Firefighters say this was actually the third homeless camp fire of the night.
“We are doing several of these a day,” AFD Battalion Chief Thayer Smith said, “whether there’s an actual fire or we are going by to check on because somebody calls in a cooking fire or something like that. Somebody sees smoke from the cooking fires or the warming fires so we are actually staying really busy with 5 to 6 calls a shift.”
The fire came just hours after a fire near the Buford Tower, an old AFD drill tower, spread to the tower itself. The Buford Tower was built in the 1930s and is at West Cesar Chavez Street in downtown Austin.
Location of State Homeless Camp
- ^ VIDEO: Fire spreads to historic firefighter drill tower in downtown Austin (www.kxan.com)
- ^ first designated it as an encampment site in November 2019 (www.kxan.com)
- ^ voted to call this camp the Esperanza Community (www.kxan.com)
- ^ fire near the Buford Tower (www.kxan.com)