VIDEO - Buford Tower in Austin catches fire from nearby homeless camp

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A fire near the old drill tower for the Austin Fire Department spread to the tower itself on West Cesar Chavez Street in downtown Austin Thursday night.

The Buford Tower was built in the 1930s, according to the Texas State Historical Association, and stands about 67 feet tall. Originally called “The Old Fireman’s Practice Tower,” TSHA says it was used as a training facility for local firefighters.

As of 9:30 p.m., AFD says the fire is under control, and the damage is mostly on the outside and windows. The department says the fire was a homeless camp fire.

TSHA says while the tower was used for many decades, by the 1970s it became unsafe to set fires for training due to the city’s growth.

The tower was dedicated in 1978 and named for AFD veteran Capt. James L. Buford, who died about six years earlier trying to rescue a teen who ended up drowning in flood waters from Shoal Creek, according to AFD.

Effie Kitchens, whose husband was involved in the tower’s original construction, and community volunteers helped to restore the building after it was no longer being used, TSHA says.

The building now serves as a bell tower and is used in the department’s 9/11 memorial ceremonies, AFD says.

Austin-Travis County