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High Winds Complicate Firefighting in Austin

High winds quickly escalated three fires in the area overnight. They have kept firefighters in Austin and Williamson County busy. Williamson County firefighters are taking the lead on a fire at the International Apartments near Copper Creek Drive and Pond Wood Road that has destroyed two buildings and forced evacuations of dozens of families. Lieutenant Josh Portie of the Austin Fire Department says the challenge has been the wind.

“From all of the wind, it was throwing embers off in the neighborhood south of there that were causing small fires throughout the community and we were having to send resources. patrolling those areas putting out fires in privacy fences, wooden decks, anywhere that leaves were accumulated. The same exact same places that we found during the wildfires," he said.

Lt. Portie says there have been no fatalities in that fire but firefighters are still trying to account for all of the residents to make certain. The cause of the fire is under investigation. The Red Cross has set up a shelter for those evacuated from the apartment complex.

There was a fatality at a house fire on Kellies Farm Road.

The 6500 block of Ed Bluestein near 183 has reopened - although AFD is still fighting a 3 acre fire there.

Portie says, “The fire isn’t growing anymore we have it stopped around three acres. But again, due to the wind, that's been the biggest things that's been beating everyone up overnight.  Due to the conditions of the fuel and the vegetation that's out there, we can't leave that alone. We’ll have crews patrolling for some time through the morning Because any of those sparks and embers or stumps that's still kind of smoldering, it doesn't take but one spark to get out of the containment lines and there we go, we're off to the races."

Portie says Austin firefighters have been preparing for the weather today, and have several options in place in case fires break out, from increasing staffing with or patrolling in vans to be available to assist on any incidents.

The high winds are expected to last through this afternoon.

Emily Donahue is a former grants writer for KUT. She previously served as news director and helped launch KUT’s news department in 2001.