Strong winds, drought conditions, errant embers contribute to fires reported in Austin area

·4 min read

After a cold front moved through Central Texas early Saturday, low humidity, increasing drought conditions and strong winds gusting between 25 to nearly 50 miles per hour ignited an apartment fire in Austin, and in Williamson County, officials have placed an emergency ban on outdoor burning.

Austin firefighters responded to a blaze at an apartment complex in the 4600 block of Elmont Drive early Saturday, according to the Fire Department. Several people were displaced from an apartment unit because of the fire.

Fire investigators said the wind gusts added new fuel to ashy embers in a barbecue fire on a balcony of the Southeast Austin apartment complex.

Austin Firefighters responded to a fire at an apartment complex in the 4600 block of Elmont Drive early Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022. Several people were displaced from an apartment unit due to the fire.
Austin Firefighters responded to a fire at an apartment complex in the 4600 block of Elmont Drive early Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022. Several people were displaced from an apartment unit due to the fire.

Increasing dryness in the area also has contributed to brush fires reported in Travis and Williamson counties since Friday afternoon.

More: Firefighters battle three blazes Friday in Williamson County

Firefighters extinguished a brush fire around 2:45 p.m. Friday that burned an acre near the Travis County Exposition Center. The fire was ignited by a lawnmower malfunction, officials said.

Just after 1:35 p.m. Friday. Williamson County authorities responded to a brush fire near County Road 198 and Apache Pass just south of Hutto.

Officials said no one was injured and no structures were damaged in that fire, which burned 80 acres.

Later Friday evening, the Texas A&M Forest Service reported that fire crews were tackling a brush fire near Andice in northwestern Williamson County. The fire burned as much as 171 acres and was contained around 10 p.m.

The local brush fires were among 19 fires around the state that burned 1,652 acres on Friday, the Texas A&M Forest Service said.

Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell issued an order declaring a local state of disaster for Williamson County. The order prohibits outdoor burning in all of the unincorporated areas of Williamson County and smoking in and or on Williamson County parks, preserves and trails "due to dry vegetation, wind and imminent threat of severe damage."

The burn ban prohibits the burning of household yard waste, such as leaves, grass, brush and other yard trimmings. It also prohibits burning to clear land of trees, stumps, shrubbery or other natural vegetation

The order is in effect for seven days and will be lifted by the county judge if conditions improve, according to a statement from the county.

PREVIOUSLY: Cold front's triple threat Saturday: Freezing temperatures, gusty winds, elevated fire risk in Austin

The Austin Fire Department tweeted Saturday afternoon that crews were facing "minimal call volume related to the weather," but they did respond to fallen trees in the 1600 block of Glenvalley Drive in the Windsor Park neighborhood of East Austin and a fallen electric pole in the 4700 block of East Ben White Boulevard in Southeast Austin.

A wind advisory and red flag warning were in effect Saturday through 6 p.m. as an alert that any fires developing in the area could easily spread, National Weather Service officials said.

As of 8 a.m. Saturday, the weather service reported 37 mph gusts at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, 31 mph gusts at Camp Mabry, 38 mph gusts in Georgetown and 33 mph gusts in San Marcos.

"Areas across the Hill Country and portions of the I-35 corridor can continue to expect frequent 40-50+ mph gusts through the day today," the weather service tweeted Saturday.

Forecasters were asking the public to practice the following:

• Do not throw cigarette butts out of car windows.

• Do not drag trailer chains that could create sparks on roads.

• Avoid burning brush or creating any outdoor fires for now.

Despite plenty of sunshine and clear skies on Saturday, temperatures in Austin were expected to drop to freezing by the wee hours of Sunday morning, forecasters said. The north-northwest winds would ease to a less disruptive 10 to 15 mph, but they will make the morning feel even more bitterly frigid.

Sunday's temperatures will be only slightly warmer with a high of 60 during the day and an overnight low of 35 degrees, just above freezing, into Monday morning.

Temperatures should rebound to normal levels for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The holiday forecast should include sunshine and a high of 66. Warmer southerly winds return to the region by early Tuesday.

Austin American-Statesman reporter Natalia Contreras can be reached at 512-626-4036 or ncontreras@statesman.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook, @NataliaECG.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Strong winds, drought conditions contribute to fires in Austin area

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting