Illegal fireworks damage cars, homes in Southeast Austin

The Austin Fire Department is once again asking the public to be cautious when handling fireworks. This comes after two families are without a home following a fire Saturday night started by fireworks.

"I was in my bedroom and my grandson says ‘grandma, get out’ and I'm like why? he goes 'because the house is on fire'," said Ophelia Rivera Garica.

Austin Fire got the call of a duplex on fire at 10:30 Saturday Evening on Donahue Ln. Ophelia lives on one side of the duplex. She says once the fire started, she knew she had to get out quickly.

"We couldn't get out the front, so we had to go out the back part and knock down the fence and jump the fence," she said.

On the other side of the duplex were Valerie Gomez and her husband. Both say they were fast asleep when the fire started.

"We just heard people banging on our windows and [people saying] it's going to explode. I heard that, but I thought I was dreaming," said Valerie.

Her neighbors shattered her bedroom window trying to wake her up to get out. Luckily, Valerie's husband heard the banging from the living room where he dozed off.

"All of a sudden, my husband kicked the door and just started dragging me out of my bedroom. I just saw smoke everywhere," she said. 

Austin Fire has confirmed the fire was caused by fireworks, which are illegal to use inside city limits.

"One of the reasons they're banned in the City is because you simply can't control the aerial fireworks. They can land in a gutter full of the leaves and land in a pile of wood, you really can't control where they're going and that’s all it takes [to start a fire]," said Thayer Smith, AFD Division Chief.

AFD says the fireworks fire caused over $200,000 worth of damage to the duplex and cars parked outside.

"It's an accident. What are we going to do? We can’t control accidents. It's a good thing that we're alive," said Valerie.

The families who were affected by this fire are pleading with the public to be careful. 

"Please be careful when you pop your firecrackers, don't do it in town. Now you see us, you know, now we're without a home and without a car," said Ophelia.

Ophelia is staying with family for the time being. Valerie and her husband are staying at a hotel.

Investigators issued four citations for reckless destruction of property and fireworks used within city limits. Those were issued to two juveniles and are a Class C Misdemeanor.

Valerie's family has set up a GoFundMe to help get them back on their feet. If you would like to donate, click here.

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