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Preventing Fires Along The Greenbelt

Photo by Erika Aguilar for KUT News
Austin fire investigators say a cigarette is to blame for the apartment fire at the The Woods located just across the street from the eastern portion of the Barton Creek Greenbelt.

Mike May says he loves living right off the Barton Creek Greenbelt. But he knows the apartment complex he is in is at risk during high fire season. So do managers. After burnt coals were dumped in the dog park, the managers started warning tenants about fire dangers.

“They put signs on the fences and things like that when things are going on and they actually just come around and put it on your particular door,” May said.

Apartment residents are not allowed to have grills on balconies or patios within ten feet from a building.  But many apartment complexes do provide grills on site. Those aren’t subject to the temporary city ban on charcoal and wood pits.

“Anytime you are near green space, especially this time of year and in the condition we are, you have a big responsibility,” said Lt. Josh Portie with the Austin Fire Department.

There’s no way to enforce the fire and smoking ban on private property, even if that property sits feet from greenbelts, wooded areas, or parks.  But some apartment managers are voluntarily following the bans.  Marlowe Nichols manages Barton Hills Park Place. He said residents have been warned through memos about cigarette butts and have been asked not to cook outside. But he says there’s only so much he can do.

“Our concern has been that we, from time to time, smell charcoal down in the greenbelt coming toward the apartment,” said Nichols.

Nichols worries that people in homeless camps in the cities’ many green spaces aren’t as informed of the fire danger that his residents are.

“The people who are living and camping in the woods probably are not receiving information the same way that the rest of us receive information, and that would be through radio, television and newspapers,” he said.

Nichols wants the city to take steps to prevent open fires, cooking or smoking in homeless camps. The recent wildfire in Oak Hill was started by a homeless man cooking on an open fire.

While the city has posted some signs in parks warning people about the fire bans, firefighter Josh Porties said the vast majority of the fires AFD responds to, are caused by people flicking or leaving burning cigarettes out, dumping coals or ash on the ground or leaving a candle on unattended. AFD says the apartment fire earlier this week at The Woods, near the Barton Creek Greenbelt, was started by a cigarette.

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