Brush fire breaks out at homeless encampment off MoPac in north Austin: AFD

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  (Austin Fire Department)

A brush fire that caught the eyes of commuters during rush hour Thursday morning was later confirmed to have started in a homeless camp. 

"We are working very closely with the homeless strategy division with the City. They're going out, doing outreach in encampments and providing information about fire safety," said AFD Division Chief Thayer Smith. "They are also prioritizing some of these encampments, with information that we provide to them, to get these folks into shelters." 

The 30 x 30-foot area that burned was near MoPac and Park Bend, just north of The Domain.

That fire is now under control and crews are mopping up multiple fire spots from flying embers.

"Without enforcing Prop B and closing down these encampments, you're going to continue to see these situations," said Matt Mackowiak, co-founder of Save Austin Now, which got the ‘camping ban’ on the ballot in 2021. Voters ultimately approved Prop B.

As part of the HEAL initiative, the City has worked on cleaning up encampments.

In June, 75 homeless were relocated from southwest Austin to the City’s Northbridge shelter, it was one of around a dozen camps cleaned up so far as part of the initiative.

However, one upset trail walker shared a video with FOX 7 of part of the West Bouldin Creek Trail on Sunday. It appeared to be overtaken by a homeless encampment. 

"What the city has done is they've said, look, unless we have a bed that's ready for you, we're not going to go and clean up an encampment," said Mackowiak. "If you look at Community First! Village and if you look at Camp Esperanza, they both have been very successful. And so we'd like to see our city move away from housing first, move in the direction of treatment first, and to double and triple and quadruple down on these two successful models."


Last week, Council member Mackenzie Kelly called for an audit of the City's homeless spending.

"I'm hearing from people in the community that I talked to that they don't see any difference in the progress being made," said Council member Kelly in a prior interview with FOX 7. "I want to see that we're using those funds appropriately. And I want to see that we're using them as effectively as possible." 

Here is a full statement the City shared with FOX 7 this summer regarding homeless encampments and fires:

"Austin Fire Department regularly responds to reports of smoke and/or fire across the community. Some of these reports result in Austin Fire Department responding to encampments of people experiencing homelessness, where Austin Fire Department enforces relevant codes and extinguishes fires as appropriate. Concerns of fire risk should be reported to the Austin Fire Department by calling 9-1-1. 

Austin Fire Department (AFD) is an active partner in the City’s cross-departmental Homeless Encampment Management team, where it shares information about call volume and high-risk locations. AFD and other City-supported outreach teams also work in the field to provide ongoing education about fire safety and fire risk mitigation, stressing the risks associated with dry grass and uncontained fires. 

The City of Austin is actively engaged in efforts to make homelessness rare, brief, and nonrecurring. The City supports a broad range of services to reduce unsheltered homelessness, from long-term housing to additional shelter programs like those recently approved at the Marshalling Yard and the former Salvation Army facility downtown. 

As stated in the May 12, 2023, memorandum from Interim City Manager Garza, the City is working to immediately establish temporary sheltering facilities, in addition to expanding capacity at current shelters and investing in multiple housing projects."