Palmer Buck

Police respond to suspicious substance found in building downtown

Police responded to a call Friday morning after a report of a suspicious white, powdery substance found in a Travis County office building downtown.

An initial investigation determined the substance to be benign, according to Austin Fire Department spokesman Palmer Buck. The substance will additionally be tested in a lab.

Seven people were exposed to the unknown white powder substance, according to Buck. Those people were being monitored by the Travis County EMS, but had not exhibited any symptoms.

The Austin Police Department, Travis County Sheriff’s office, FBI and Fire department responded to the call that came in at 10:30 Friday morning at the building located at Lavaca and 7th Street downtown. Buck said once the fire at the DoubleTree Hotel was under control, some firefighters were immediately sent to respond to the substance call.

Karina Roque, international relations and global studies junior, showed up to her internship to find the building sealed by the police. Roque said she was surprised to find the building surrounded by law enforcement.

“You run the risk, but I didn’t expect [a bomb threat] to happen,” Roque said. “You don’t come expecting there to be a bomb threat.”

Buck said the police and fire departments take bomb and substance threats seriously in an effort to protect the public.

“We take these types of calls seriously,” Buck said. “We want to make sure the people inside the building are okay and we want to make sure we do our due diligence in the investigation to make sure that we can reassure the people in the building that everything is going to be okay.”

The primary tenant in the building was the Travis County Auditor’s Office. It was unclear what floor of the building the substance was found.


A brushfire that destroyed 10 homes broke out in South Austin on Sunday.

Palmer Buck, Austin Fire Department battalion chief, said the fire began at approximately 1:32 p.m. About 50 percent of the fire was contained by 10:30 p.m., according to the city of Austin Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

One suspect who fire officials believe started the blaze is currently in custody with a $50,000 bond. Officials have not released the suspect’s name.

The fire damaged eight homes in the Oak Hill area, near U.S. Highway 290 and State Highway 71, and 10 more have received fire damage.

Four fire departments — Austin, Westlake, Lake Travis and Oak Hill — helped contain the fire. Two STAR Flight helicopters dumped buckets of water on the blaze, and two C-130 airplanes dropped fire retardant.

“It’s just a horrible example of how dry and dangerous it is right now,” Buck said of the drought experienced all across the state.

Wildfires continue to spread in West Texas, and more than 195 counties, including Travis County, have an outdoor burn ban currently in place.

Residents in the area evacuated their homes, and many could not return by Sunday night.

A fire broke out in the back lot of Breed’s Hardware Company on 29th Street Friday evening.

Austin firefighters responded to a call at 7:26 p.m. and found heavy flames had engulfed a storage shed behind the store, which had closed for the day.

Firefighters extinguished the flames and prevented the fire from spreading to the store itself. Though the cause of the fire is unknown, investigators reported the storage shed contained large quantities of lumber, burlap sacks and dried manure - all highly flammable items.

“We’d been collecting that stuff for over 20 years,” said Phil Hoge, a Breed’s employee. “Now we have to start over.”

Palmer Buck, commander for the responding battalion, said that the main concern was that the fire might set off tanks of propane.

“Thankfully we were able to put it out before anything more serious happened,” Buck said.

AFD will hold an all-night “fire watch” to ensure that no further fires occur.