The Travis County Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating after an Islamic center near Lake Travis under construction was burned to the ground.
Shakeel Rashed is the Secretary of the Board for the Islamic Center of Lake Travis. He said he got the news from the contractor something was wrong early Saturday (1/7) morning and went right to the scene, “I was pretty shocked to see the whole structure completely down,” he said
Prior to the fire the foundation had been set, the frame was up, windows were in place, and they were just about to stucco the building that was set to open in March or April.
Rashed said the idea of building the center came years ago, when the muslim community came together to help others for a different fire, and they realized they were outgrowing their meeting spot at a local elementary school. “The seed of the center was put together when our families got together to help the victims of the Steiner Ranch fires and it’s sad to see that we are affected in the same way right now,” he said.
Lake Travis Fire Rescue got the call around 3:30 early Saturday morning, when they arrived the building was fully engulfed in flames. As to what started the fire, Rashed said they didn’t have any electrical systems installed yet. They did have one construction machine inside that Fire Marshal's are looking into. But asked the community to restrain from drawing any conclusions before the investigation is complete, “We want to keep our mind open, we’ve always felt this was an open community, and I am a big fan of Austin, so it’s very surprising if it would be a hate crime in this area,” he said.
A vandalism incident a few months ago may lead to some answers as to how the fire started. “Some kids or whoever did some graffiti or some small things around here so that pretty much pushed us to install a couple of cameras around the building, one was inside the building the other was outside on the pole,” Rashed said. That footage is now being looked at by the Travis County Fire Marshal’s Office.
As for their future in the Lake Travis community, Rashed said it’s not questionable, “We will start over, there’s no question that we don’t want this building to be in this area, we are part of the community and we would love to rebuild at this very site,” he said.