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Man charged with arson in connection with building fire on Congress Avenue

Austin Fire Department investigators have estimated damages at approximately $1 million.

AUSTIN, Texas — Editor's note: The Austin Fire Department originally stated that this fire occurred at 903 Congress Ave. but later clarified it was 907 Congress Ave. 

A man has been charged with arson in connection with a fire at an abandoned building on Congress Avenue, just blocks away from the Texas State Capitol, early Tuesday morning. 

The Austin Fire Department said just after midnight Tuesday that crews were on the scene of a fire at a commercial building located at 907 Congress Ave., two streets over from the Capitol. 

AFD said at 1 a.m. that the fire was under control and, due to structural conditions, crews were operating from outside the building. AFD said there was no one inside the building, and no one was injured in the fire.

Shortly after that update, AFD said firefighters had transitioned to overhaul operations, with crews putting out hot spots from outside the building. AFD said the main body of the fire had been extinguished, and there were no visible flames.

Just before 2 a.m., AFD said one aerial and one engine would remain on the scene overnight and that crews were still working on extinguishing hot spots.

At around 9:20 a.m. Tuesday, AFD stated that the building was abandoned and that crews had been watching it overnight and extinguishing small flare-ups. AFD said firefighters were able to keep the fire contained to the building it originated in.

Later on Tuesday, AFD arson investigators arrested John Daniel Banks, 32, in connection with the fire. Banks has been charged with arson, a state jail felony that carries a punishment of up to a $10,000 fine and between two and 10 years in jail. Banks has also been charged with criminal mischief and other property damage or destruction, according to an arrest affidavit. 

Credit: Austin Fire Department

Banks was interviewed by investigators shortly after the fire, according to the affidavit, and admitted to staying in the building without permission from the owner. Banks stated that on the night of the fire, he lit a bag of chops on fire "because he wanted to see the light and he thought it would be a good way to cook nachos," the affidavit stated. 

Shortly after lighting the bag of chips on fire, Banks' bed caught on fire and one of his blankets melted. Banks stated that he thought he put out the fire and left the building to go to the Sixth Street area. Upon returning, there was a fire on the second floor, where Banks' bed was located. The bed was completely engulfed in flames. 

Banks left once more to report the fire and said that "it is possible that embers from the previous fire that evening could have been the cause," according to the affidavit. Video surveillance in the building showed Banks entering and exiting during the timeframes stated, reinforcing his statements. 

Banks told investigators that he had three buckets inside the building that he would start fires in for light. 

AFD said investigators estimate damages to the building at approximately $1 million.

No additional information is available at this time.

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