Fire that killed five at Iconic Village was 'incendiary'
Officials have said the deadly apartment fire at Iconic Village was caused by an “intentional human act” and are offering up to $10,000 for information from the public.
At a press conference Friday morning, Fred Milanowski, ATF special agent in charge, spoke about the depth of investigation of the July 20 fire — the 10 days investigators spent on the scene, the testing done at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms national labs, interviews with witnesses and other analysis.
“Today, as a result of all that, we are here to announce the ATF is classifying this fire as incendiary. That means it was intentionally set,” Milanowski said. “That means this is a criminal investigation now.”
Moreover, Milanowski said the ATF is offering the reward for information that can help with the investigation.
“We are confident there are people in the public that have heard something either before this event happened or since it happened that can help us in our investigation,” he said.
The number to call with information is 1-888-ATF-TIPS.
Because it is an ongoing investigation, Milanowski said, he could not answer questions about how it was set, whether authorities suspect one person or a group, where it was set, if a particular person or area was targeted, and other details.
“Investigators here know where it was set, how it was set,” Milanowski said, but officials are holding many details close to their vest until a suspect or suspects are developed.
When asked if the “incendiary” classification includes fires started by meth labs or making marijuana extract, Milanowski said it does.
“It is a charge … we have considered,” he said.
Milanowski did say that no one has been arrested in connection with the incidents. The officials were not certain what charges will face a suspect (or suspects) upon arrest. He also said that officials spoke to the families of the deceased earlier Friday morning.
Milanowski said he could not speak to the person’s or group’s motive; however, he said, “This was not an accident.”
Questions of safety
When asked about the fire alarms at Iconic Village, officials said there is audio and video footage of the alarms sounding the morning of the fire.
“The smoke alarms that were present, we did hear the audible signals going off for those,” San Marcos Fire Marshal Kelly Kistner said. “As to when they went off, how many of them went off, we can’t give the specifics on that.”
Officials are also not releasing details about the means of egress at the apartment building — whether some of the injured and deceased “didn’t get out or couldn’t get out” during the fire.
“That could be key to the development of the investigation as we go forward,” Kistner said.
The officials also did not speak about possible negligence on the part of the apartment complex or the ongoing civil lawsuits against the complex owners and managers.
“It’s not appropriate for us to weigh in on that,” Milanowski said.
The Iconic Village fire affected more than 200 people, leaving many homeless, several injured and five dead. Residents Dru Estes, James Miranda, Belinda Moats, Haley Frizzell and David Ortiz were killed in the fire; resident Zachary Sutterfield received burns over 70 percent of his body and head trauma during the fire. There are four civil lawsuits filed in district court in Travis County against the complex owners, San Marcos Green Investors, and managers. The parents of all the deceased residents, Sutterfield’s parents, and several residents have either filed or joined the lawsuits; there are more than 23 plaintiffs suing the complex owners and managers.
The building that was fully engulfed in the inferno did not have a sprinkler system, nor was it required to because of its age. The building was constructed in 1970 and had not undergone any major renovations since then.
The day of the fire, investigators spoke with residents, some of whom said they did not hear any smoke detectors or other alarms go off. Other residents said the alarms did not go off in a timely fashion.
When asked what to tell parents who are finding out that someone set fire to an apartment complex here in San Marcos and have concerns, Kistner said, “The message to parents is this: When you send your kids off to college, find out where your kid’s going to live at. Make sure there’s sprinkler systems in place. Make sure the smoke alarms are working before you leave your kids where they’re going to live at.
“Have an active role in selecting the place where they’re going to live at. Have an active role in educating them on fire safety — knowing the way out, knowing two ways out. Those are the things we really need to work on.”