AUSTIN (KXAN) — A collapse during a fire at a west Austin condominium complex sent three firefighters to the hospital with burns Sunday morning.
While fighting the fire, the second floor gave way and burning debris trapped Lt. Jeremy Burke, Firefighter Wille Cook, and Firefighter Jimmy Casares, according to the Austin Fire Department. Burke and Cook are both 16-year veterans of the department. Casares has four years of experience, according to AFD.
Austin Fire Department Division Chief Palmer Buck said Sunday morning that the firefighters suffered second degree burns and are in good condition. However, an update Sunday afternoon stated an ambulance took Casares to a burn center in San Antonio and that an APD officer also went to the hospital for smoke inhalation.
The fire started around 7:30 Sunday morning at the Dry Creek West complex at 3839 Dry Creek Drive, near RM 2222 and Mopac. Heavy smoke and fire prompted crews to call for more help, according to Buck. Despite the danger, firefighters decided to go into the building, to try to save a life. Crews later determined the person firefighters were trying to rescue was actually out of town.
“The crucial point is, that when we got here… we were told that somebody was trapped inside. There was concern that there was somebody trapped inside,” said Buck. “So [firefighters] were making a very risky, but necessary attempt at trying to do rescue in the apartment. The fire was rapidly advancing and that’s our job. Crews are supposed to get in there and see if they can’t perform a rescue. That was the mode that they were in when the collapse happened.”
Buck says the first “mayday” call of a firefighter trapped went out at around 7:53 a.m. Several minutes later, the firefighters were out of the building.
“Those three firefighters were quickly brought out, initially treated by firefighters and then switched over their care to EMS,” said Buck.
A rapid-intervention crew, which the fire department keeps on standby at all structure fires, also helped according to Buck.
“I looked outside and everything was like on fire,” said Morgan Smith, who lives in the building next to the one damaged by the fire.
Some of the evacuees woke up to hear the sounds of someone pounding on doors, warning of the smoke and flames. Neighbors watched, some in only their pajamas, as firefighters battled the flames.
By 8:03 a.m., the fire department raised the incident to a three-alarm fire and was being fought defensively. Fire crews were ordered out of the building at that point and the fire was fought from the outside.
The Austin Fire Department estimates damage to the structure and contents of the building at about $2 million. The fire displaced about 40 people and damaged 10 condominiums, with four additional units sustaining smoke and water damage, according to a news release from the fire department.
The Austin Fire Department plans to brief the media on developments regarding this fire Sunday evening.
KXAN will update this story as more information becomes available.