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Improperly discarded cigarette butt caused South Austin apartment fire that displaced 30

The Austin Fire Department is still monitoring a South Austin apartment complex that burned throughout the night and into the morning. (CBS Austin)

The Austin Fire Department is still monitoring a South Austin apartment complex that burned throughout the night and into the morning.

It started at around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday near Victory Drive and W. Ben White Blvd. at the James Place Apartments.

The fire wasn't the worst news this week for Christine Sager who watched the apartment she shared with her mother go up in flames.

"Just a lot going on," Sager said. "My mom just got diagnosed with stage four breast cancer, so just another thing to add to the plate."

She and her mother just learned about the diagnosis on Monday. Now, they are dealing with rebuilding their lives in a new home.

Residents who came back to try to check on their belongings were turned away Wednesday morning after the complex was deemed too unsafe for people to go back inside.

"Lives are what can't be replaced, and yeah these are people's homes, and it's really, really weird not having a place to call home and feeling homeless," Sager said.

The Austin Fire Department says the fire started after someone left a cigarette butt burning on a front porch outside of the apartment.

"An easily preventable fire if you take care of your cigarettes. That didn't happen, and now 30 people are out of their homes," AFD Div. Fire Chief Palmer Buck said.

The flames grew so intense, even a firewall inside the attic couldn't stop it from spreading to other units as fire crews arrived.

Altogether, 24 units were ruined and more than 30 people were displaced.

According to Buck, the building did not have sprinkler systems inside.

However, the building is still in compliance with fire codes.

A code was put in to require sprinklers in buildings being built, but grandfathered in ones built before the code was put in place.

The James Place Apartments was one of those allowed to continue without a sprinkler system.

One code all apartments need to comply with requires buildings with an attic 3,000 square feet or bigger to have draft stops.

Buck says the building had one, but it still could not stop the fire.

"In this building there was a fire stop. The fire did stop for a bit, however, the fire was so intense it broke through," Buck said.

The fire also destroyed a boiler that provides heat to five other apartment buildings, leaving some tenants without hot water indefinitely.

But some residents are looking on the bright side of things. Several animals were rescued from the building, including one cat found beneath the rubble on the third floor of the charred apartment complex Wednesday morning.

"We were worried if she was injured, but there were still firefighters on the scene this morning," said Stephanie Piland, who lives in an adjacent apartment building. She and her neighbors noticed the cat and called for help from Austin firefighters still on scene.

"We just chatted with her until the firefighters arrived to come get her," Piland said.

The cat was eventually reunited with her owner later in the day.

AFD says they will continue checking on the apartment complex throughout the night to make sure no hotspots reignite.

Buck told CBS Austin first and second floor residents will be able to return to get their belongings once a structural engineer deems it safe to go back inside.

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