Homeless camp brush fire in South Austin

A brush fire erupted before midnight Sunday at a homeless encampment at I-35 and Stassney Lane in South Austin.

"We can start fires very easily in these conditions, and because these conditions are so dry with the wind, they can get uncontrolled very quickly, and that is what we are seeing in some of these campfires from some of the people that are experiencing homelessness," said Austin Fire Association president Bob Nicks.

The roaring flames were contained at half an acre, a familiar sight for Nicks.

"These are small fires, and the big fire is coming and has not come yet, I have been saying this for years it is not a matter of if it is going to happen, it’s when," said Nicks.

According to firefighters, these fires put those living in the encampment and surrounding areas at risk.


"We have an increased wildfire risk to begin with given how dry it is, how little rain we have had and the oppressive heat we have had over 30 days of consecutive, 100-degree weather," said Matt Mackowiak, co-founder of Save Austin Now. "When you combine that with these encampments occurring in wooded areas, parks, on trails and private property where you have a lot of flammable material, it creates a toxic cocktail."

Mackowiak says the encampment fires are reoccurring.

"The fire department tells us that they are seeing 4 to 5 on average, 4 to 5 fires in encampments every day in Austin," he said.

In May 2021, the city of Austin approved Proposition B making it a criminal offense for anyone to sit, lie down, or camp in public areas.

Mackowiak says enforcing Proposition B will help in these situations.

"If you don't let people camp in these areas in an unregulated way, you take away the risk of these fires occurring in these places. We want our homeless receiving services, we want them to be sober, on their mental health treatment plan, sheltered in safe environments," said Mackowiak.

"It's really important that we monitor these areas, we try to police these areas as much as possible, and educate people that live in those camps just how severe it is, those areas are going to affect other houses and apartment complexes very quickly," said Nicks.