Steiner Ranch is a residential development about 20 miles west of Austin. Last September, fire destroyed 23 homes and consumed roughly 160 acres in the area. Travis County Constable Cpl. Kevin Aigner collapsed and died Sept. 10, 2011, while helping victims and working at the fire site.
Soon after the fire, the press was reporting that a “preliminary investigation” showed that overhead power lines caused the fire. A Travis County Sheriff’s Office spokesman said at that time that witnesses reported seeing the lines sway in high winds and arc, causing sparks to fall onto dry brush below. The spokesman said that “because we had such a long period of drought, the sparks coming off the line caused the fire.”
Mr. Aigner’s widow has filed a wrongful death suit against Austin Energy and the City of Austin. According the lawsuit, the 38-year old Aigner was helping Steiner Ranch residents on Sept. 10 when he suffered a “hemorrhagic pontine stroke” while in the line of duty. Pontine strokes disrupt blood supply to the brainstem and are usually devastating. Aigner had worked in heat greater than 102 degrees and heavy smoke for days helping families evacuate, assisting firefighters and performing traffic control. The day before he died, he experienced fatigue and shortness of breath but returned to Steiner Ranch early the next morning.
The suit alleges Austin Energy was negligent in installing, operating and maintaining the pole structure and power lines in the right-of-way near two homes on Mansfield Drive, where the fire started on Sept. 4, 2011.