Austin firefighters search storm water drain after putting out fire

It was a tough job for Austin firefighters. Sunday, crews had to venture deep inside a storm water drain after putting out a fire near a homeless encampment.      

"It was pretty much coming out every open hole pretty much."

Cell video captured shows plumes of smoke escaping from nearby manholes and storm drains that line the street of East Riverside Drive and Willow Creek Drive. Alex Burton a 32 year resident says the site he caught was something he'd never seen before in his southeast Austin neighborhood.  

"We could see it coming out from here. The manholes are down Riverside that way," said Burton. 

Around 8:30 a.m. authorities responded to a fire inside of a storm water tunnel.

According to AFD the fire was contained within 20 minutes. "We had the north wind that was keeping all that smoke all up inside this drainage system," said Chief Josh Portie with the Austin Fire Department. 

The real work began when firefighters say they had to canvas the inside of the storm drain. 
Responders say the tunnel appeared to be home to an unknown number of homeless people.

"A couple hundred yards they had to come into this drainage system from the south end searching the best they can and get around they had to do the same thing from this end just ensure no one got lost or disoriented from the smoke or trapped,"  said Chief Portie. 

While working to put the fire out crews faced some challenges.

The team found a large number of mattresses and other debris burning. "All piled and crushed up from some of the storms so the flood waters when the drain comes through here it pushes it all and piles up behind some trees and part of this drainage system." 

Burton says the fire is the latest sign of the ongoing homeless crisis that Austin faces. "They have houses and tents and stuff that much more flammable things to catch these days so seems its ongoing problem for sure I think something needs to happen,"  said Burton. 

No injuries were reported. 

Firefighters on scene reported that there were no victims in the incident.

Authorities believe the fire to be accidental and have  not released a cause.