Updated: North Campus fire forces 32 people to evacuate

Natalie Sullivan

Update (6:00 p.m.): The shelter provided by the Red Cross at the Recreational Sports Center officially shut down around 3:30 p.m. on Monday afternoon because no more students had come to utilize its services, according to volunteer Bob Stephens. 

Stephens said students affected by the fire had found temporary housing with friends or family, and Student Emergency Services made sure that the three students who checked into the shelter Monday morning had places to stay that night.

Original story: A fire at an apartment complex north of campus forced 32 residents, including students, to evacuate from their housing early Monday morning. 

According to Austin Fire Department spokeswoman Michelle Tanzola, the fire started in a second floor apartment around 2:30 a.m. Monday at the Walnut Run complex on 3202 Helms St. near Speedway and 32nd streets. 

A total of 18 apartment units were affected, and the fire was extinguished around 3 a.m. Firefighters evacuated both the main apartment complex and the two buildings next door.

Management graduate student Suho Han said he was in the apartment right below where the fire started. 

“I woke up around 2:30, and it sounded like popcorn popping, so I looked out the window..and [there was] fire on the roof of the balcony, and embers coming down” Han said. “I got up, put on my shorts…and grabbed my keys and my wallet. We got outside, and the fire was going up the wall.” 

According to Han, firefighters arrived on the scene fairly quickly.

“Once the fire department came, they told us to get across the street,” Han said. “It took about 20 minutes for the firefighters to put out the fire, but then it came back a little bit.”

Han said his apartment was severely damaged, but was told he might be able to go back later in the day and gather a few more of his belongings.

“It’s all trash now,” Han said. “I’m probably going to stay at my friend’s house until I can find somewhere else.” 

Students were evacuated to the Recreational Sports Center, where a temporary shelter was set up by the American Red Cross of Central Texas.  

Bob Stephens, one of the Red Cross volunteers. said the shelter was set up around 6 a.m. Monday morning. At press time, only 3 students were registered to stay at the shelter, but Stephens said more students are expected to come by tonight. Stephens said he expected most students would stay with friends or family. 

“We’re providing sleeping cots, blankets, a comfort kit with personal items, and snacks,” Stephens said. “The Rec Center is providing access to showers.”

Stephens said the shelter is expected to remain open for as long as it is needed by students.

Christa Lopez, Student Emergency Services associate director, said her organization is working to provide emergency funds and other basic necessities for students affected by the fire.

No one was injured, and the cause of the fire is still unknown.