AUSTIN, Texas — The Austin Fire Department is investigating a fire in the storm water tunnels near the intersection of Willow Creek Drive and Riverside Drive.

  • People were living in tunnels
  • Mattresses on fire
  • No one hurt

AFD says it appears that transient people were living in the tunnels. There were a large number of mattresses and other debris burning in the series of tunnels.

The fire started from debris that likely traveled down the drainage tunnel during a storm.

Batallion Chief Josh Portie says the firefighters had to go inside the tunnel to make sure there were no inhabitants still inside.

"We had folks going in nearly 150, 200 yards into this drainage system with the primary purpose to search," he said.

Realizing how dangerous the search was, the water department helped navigate the tunnel.

“Going into a tunnel system like this that could have drop offs and could have other vault areas. Those are always concerns for us," said Portie.

Winds in the area helped push the smoke hundreds of yards to the other side of the tunnel, where homeless people often sleep.

“We were going back in and trying to help them get what belongings they do have that could be salvageable or saved," said Portie. "Luckily, with all the fire down here. It was just smoke or smoke damage."

AFD doesn't believe it started from a warming fire because there were no occupants on that side of the tunnel.

Photo of scene at Willow Creek Drive and Riverside Drive (Austin Fire Department)
Photo of scene at Willow Creek Drive and Riverside Drive (Austin Fire Department)