AFD Historical Incidents
Austin, Texas was first settled by Americans in the 1830´s along the banks of the Colorado River. Following the War for Texas Independence the city of Austin, formerly the village of Waterloo, was chosen as the Texas capital in 1839. As the town grew fire was definitely a threat to the emerging city. Throughout the 1840´s and 1850´s the local newspapers commented on the lack of fire protection following a fire. In fact, the city leaders tried to organize a fire department around 1841, but that venture quickly dissolved probably due to a lack of leadership, experience, and of course, money. Following a fire that burned a storehouse on Congress Avenue occupied by Fisk and Bowers, Bengener´s boot and shoe store, and Jones´ blacksmith shop in December 1855, the Texas Intelligencer lamented “An engine and water facilities are much needed for the safety of property in this city.” By September 25, 1857 leading business merchants of Austin, under the leadership of John Bremond, Sr., began organizing Austin Hook and Ladder No. 1, but it wasn´t until August of 1858 that the fire company was completely up and running. Probably the first fire of historical significance occurred on February 4, 1858 in John T. Miller´s livery stable. The Texas Intelligencer reported that Hook and Ladder 1 only had a “scarcity of ladders, hooks and buckets” which made it a “miracle that anything was saved.” This fire was significant in that it crystallized public sentiment in supporting and organizing Austin´s first fire company.
There are no criteria to determine what makes a fire historically significant or not. A very large incident isn´t necessarily historically significant, although size is usually a major factor. The historical incidents on this list are basically determined by the amount of coverage given to it by the local media and/or by oral accounts. As always, information on this website is always up for discussion and modification. In addition, this list wouldn´t be complete without major weather disasters that have plagued the Austin area. Thunderstorms, floods, and even tornados are natural phenomena that plague the Austin landscape and are a necessary evil that help shape the beauty of our city. Unfortunately, many Austinites and several Austin firefighters have given their lives to these powerful storms.