A massive wildfire that broke out in Cedar Park on Tuesday night has destroyed one apartment building and damaged two others, leaving dozens of residents homeless and without power. The fire, which started as a grass fire near Brushy Creek, spread quickly to the nearby Bexley at Silverado apartment complex and engulfed one of the buildings in flames. The fire also threatened several businesses and townhomes in the area, forcing hundreds of people to evacuate.
Firefighters battle blaze for hours, contain 60% of fire
The Cedar Park Fire Department responded to the fire around 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday and requested assistance from several neighboring agencies, including Austin, Round Rock, Leander, Georgetown, and Pflugerville. More than 200 firefighters and 50 fire trucks were involved in the firefighting efforts, which lasted for several hours. The fire was 60% contained by Wednesday afternoon, according to Cedar Park Fire Chief James Mallinger.
Mallinger said the fire was fueled by dry vegetation, strong winds, and low humidity. He said the fire traveled from the grass to the trees before it reached the apartment complex. “It started as a grass fire and went from grass to trees and engulfed the building,” he said. “Trees were very close to the building and in some cases even touched the building. There are many ways embers could have sprung in and I can’t guess what caused the building fires at this time.”
The fire chief said the cause of the fire is still under investigation and that no foul play is suspected. He said there were two minor injuries among first responders, one from debris in their eye and another from smoke inhalation. He praised the firefighters for their bravery and professionalism in battling the blaze.
Residents lose everything, seek shelter and assistance
The fire destroyed building 10 of the Bexley at Silverado apartment complex, which had 24 units. Residents of buildings 9, 11, and 12 were also affected by the fire and had to evacuate. Some of them were able to return to their apartments on Wednesday morning after working with fire officials at the scene, but others were not so lucky.
Nicole Rocha, who lived in building 10 with her boyfriend Carlos Telles, said she lost everything in the fire. She said she escaped with her Australian shepherd Penny and her car keys on Tuesday night while Telles was at work. She found out about the fire when her mother called to ask about it, and then she looked outside her door and saw smoke. “I never thought this would happen in Texas,” she said. “I thought the wildfires were in California.”
Rocha said she saw neighbors running with their backpacks and people putting their kids in cars. “When I went outside, I saw trees behind my building were on fire and the grass on site was burning,” she said. She said she tried to call Telles but his phone was dead. She eventually reached him through a friend and they met at a nearby Walmart parking lot, where many evacuees gathered on Tuesday night.
The couple arrived at a Red Cross shelter at the Hill Country Bible Church in Cedar Park on Wednesday afternoon. They said they had no insurance and no idea what to do next. “We don’t have anything left,” Telles said. “We don’t have clothes, we don’t have food, we don’t have money.”
The American Red Cross is providing shelter, food, water, clothing, hygiene items, emotional support, and recovery assistance to the affected residents. Anthony Triola, a Red Cross coordinator, said no one spent Tuesday night in the shelter, but seven people came to relax and get information. He said there were 31 other families living in the damaged buildings who may need help.
Triola said he spoke to some Russian-speaking residents at the Walmart parking lot who were confused and scared. He said he tried to reassure them and direct them to the shelter. He said the Red Cross is working with other agencies and organizations to provide long-term recovery support for the residents.
City officials urge water conservation, offer resources
The city of Cedar Park issued a boil water notice for some areas affected by the fire on Wednesday morning due to low water pressure caused by firefighting operations. The notice affects customers along Parmer Lane between Ranch Trails Court and Brushy Creek Road; along Brushy Creek Road between Parmer Lane and Vista Ridge Boulevard; along Vista Ridge Boulevard between Brushy Creek Road and East Whitestone Boulevard; along East Whitestone Boulevard between Vista Ridge Boulevard and Sam Bass Road; along Sam Bass Road between East Whitestone Boulevard and Ranch Road 1431; along Ranch Road 1431 between Sam Bass Road and Market Street; along Market Street between Ranch Road 1431 and New Hope Drive; along New Hope Drive between Market Street and Cottonwood Creek Trail; along Cottonwood Creek Trail between New Hope Drive and Lakeline Boulevard; along Lakeline Boulevard between Cottonwood Creek Trail and Old Mill Road; along Old Mill Road between Lakeline Boulevard and Cypress Creek Road; and along Cypress Creek Road between Old Mill Road and El Salido Parkway.
The city also asked residents and businesses to suspend outdoor irrigation and watering until Friday to conserve water. The city said it is working to restore normal water service as soon as possible.
The city also offered resources and information for the residents affected by the fire on its website. The city said it is working with the property management of the apartment complex to provide dumpsters, portable toilets, and water stations for the residents. The city also said it is waiving fees for fire-related permits and inspections for the residents.
The city thanked the firefighters, first responders, volunteers, and community members who helped during the fire. The city said it is proud of the resilience and compassion of its citizens.