“Did not surprise me one bit”: Neighbors say fire in vacant building was a matter of time

Austin (KXAN) — A fire early Tuesday morning claimed a two-story building in central Austin. The Austin Fire Department said it was likely the result of people inside trying to stay warm, and businesses nearby said they were not surprised as squatters are in and out of the building every day.

Fire burns vacant building; likely started by people trying to stay warm, AFD says

AFD said crews were called to a building at the corner of Cameron Road and Clayton Lane at 1:23 a.m. When the first crews arrived around 1:30 a.m., four or five people ran out of the building and ran off, AFD said.

Neighbors said people “scattered” from the scene once responders arrived to this building fire in Central Austin. <em>(Photo/Violeta Stavrou)</em>
Neighbors said people “scattered” from the scene once responders arrived to this building fire in Central Austin. (Photo/Violeta Stavrou)

A business operator near the fire site said she was startled by the sound of numerous fire trucks early Tuesday morning. She said she took the image above.

In videos of the blaze, crackling flames and collapsing walls could be heard snapping as the fire roared on.

A man that runs a business near the site of the fire asked to not be identified, but said he saw squatters occupying the building and starting fires to keep warm just days before the overnight blaze.

“Since it’s gotten cold, they’re building fires on the property behind us. I can only assume that’s what caused the the problem,” the man said.

City of Austin leaders gathered Tuesday to give an update on the emergency response to this week’s cold weather.

At least 649 people stayed overnight in Austin’s cold weather shelters, setting a record

Austin Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Ken Snipes said the City of Austin and its partners are working to get those most vulnerable somewhere warm through the next week.

“It takes the strength of the city, the county and our nonprofits to work together during an emergency,” Snipes said.

Interim City Manager Jesus Garza said community agencies were also going to encampments to spread the word about the city’s warming shelters.

Shelter registration is still taking place at One Texas Center, located at 505 Barton Springs Road. Transportation is available for free to those who need it.

CapMetro wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the bus routes to One Texas Center include 1, 7, 10, 20, 30, 105, 142 and 801. The transit service reminded people that if they’re seeking a cold weather shelter and do not have the means to pay the fare, they will still be given a ride.

Local leaders said if anyone needs help getting to one of the shelters after 8 p.m., they should either call 311 or (512) 974-2000 to access that assistance.

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