Fire officials on Friday probed through the remnants of Wurstfest’s Marktplatz and Wursthalle buildings, both charred by two blazes in a 12-hour period between Thursday night and Friday morning.
“We don’t know yet what caused this fire,” San Marcos Fire Marshal Kelly Kistner, director of Wurstfest safety and security, said at a press conference Friday. “The fire is being investigated, and as soon as we have more information we will let you know.”
Fire inspectors were sorting through debris to figure the cause of the fire, believed contained Thursday night but re-ignited Friday morning.
New Braunfels Fire Department Chief Patrick O’Connell said Thursday night’s fire was contained to two vendor booths in the Marktplatz, where damages were estimated at $50,000.
Aerial views showed the Marktplatz roof had caved in spots, and soot had poured from air filters atop the Wursthalle’s iconic yellow roof emblazoned with the ‘Wurstfest’ name.
Officials from the city fire marshal’s office, state fire marshal’s office and the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) were conducting their probe Friday afternoon, Kistner said.
“I’m staying out of that because the city is on the scene,” Kistner said, deferring comment to city officials.
City fire code revisions, effective in 2019, calls for installations of sprinkler systems in existing A-2 category buildings — restaurants, bars, casinos and banquet halls — with load occupancies of 300 or more and serve alcohol on the premises.
In 2018, Suzanne Herbelin, Wurstfest Association executive director, said the organization was preparing for the changes, which granted a three-year grace period for installations of fire-suppressing sprinkler systems in the Wursthalle, Marktplatz and Steltenplatz buildings.
Kistner on Friday confirmed the Wurstfest Association had begun implementing more than $500,000 in safety improvements, with several in place for the recent 10-day festival, which ended Nov. 10. While some fire alarms were installed, he said installation of fire sprinklers has not been completed.
Calls to O’Connell and Herbelin were not immediately returned Friday afternoon. David Ferguson, New Braunfels Police Department communications coordinator, said the Comal River, was temporarily closed.
“It was closed due to the runoff from the fire, the water, soot and also the fire fighting foam,” he said. “It was closed out of an abundance of caution, but I anticipate it will be open tomorrow.”
Ferguson said the fire foam is a soap-based material that is non-toxic, eco-friendly and approved for use by the U.S. Forest Service.
“We mix between .1 and .3% of the product with water and air, and it helps with fire suppression,” he said. “The runoff has been monitored by city officials, and there are sandbags and booms in place in certain areas to catch some of the runoff before it enters the watershed.”
Ferguson said Hinman Island Drive and Landa Park Drive, both closed to traffic, reopened Friday afternoon. Only the portion of Elizabeth Avenue in front of the rear Wurstfest gate remained closed.
Firefighters responded to two separate fires, the Friday morning one much larger that engaged dozens of fire units from New Braunfels and surrounding areas.
First responders arrived around 7:15 p.m. Thursday to douse a fire in the Marktplatz. At 6:03 a.m. Friday, they were called back.
Firefighters and fire engines from Seguin, Canyon Lake, San Marcos, Cibolo, Selma and Schertz spent about an hour and a half getting the fire under control.
The Marktplatz received considerable fire, smoke and heat damage and was declared structurally unsound Friday morning. Wursthalle received heat damage but labeled structurally sound, Ferguson said.