No bodies were found Saturday amid the burned-out rubble of the former Key Largo hotel-casino, but the search will resume today on another section of the two-story building that was all but gutted by Thursday afternoon’s fire.
Led by the keen noses of a trio of trained cadaver dogs, the search for possible human remains started early Saturday morning, and by the end of the day “thankfully, all was good” on the building’s south side, said Clark County Deputy Fire Chief Jon Klassen.
Although the Labrador retrievers initially alerted their handlers to something suspicious — at first thought to be the smell of death — Klassen explained later that it could have just been “old blood,” the result of somebody having cut their hand months ago inside the dilapidated building.
Squatters came out of hiding, one by one, as the excavation crews began to tear down the more precarious parts of the building Saturday afternoon.
“They’re really possessive of their territory. One guy said he was looking for his dog, but I’m not going to take any of them at their word,” said Klassen.
“Who knows what the truth is anymore. I don’t.”
Today, the same dogs will resume the search for possible human remains toward the northern end of the building.
The search and partial demolition comes nearly three days after a four-alarm fire swept through the hotel-casino that was built in 1978. The fire sent dark smoke into the Las Vegas skyline and caused $4.5 million in damage.
On Friday, the structure’s owner, a Miami-based development company, was notified that it has until April 26 to tear down the brick and wood-frame building, which was in operation until Jan. 19, 2005.
It then fell into disrepair, fuel for a fire that some said was just waiting to happen amid the urban sprawl that makes up the corner of Flamingo and Paradise roads, about a mile east of the Strip.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, Klassen said.
Meantime, it is the job of Clark County to make sure that the building is secure and safe, and that human remains are retrieved if such remains are on site.
The latter responsibility led to a quick call to Capt. John Bernstein of the North Las Vegas Fire Department.
Bernstein, 44, is the local expert in training cadaver dogs. In fact, he owns a couple of them.
He brought Goliath, his 6-year-old yellow lab, to the fire scene and let him loose to explore the building in the early morning.
Bernstein declined to go into the details on just how Goliath reacted inside the building, but he did elaborate on cadaver dog training.
He said they are taught to smell death by introducing special chemicals into their environment — namely putrescine, also known as tetramethylenediamine. The foul-smelling organic chemical compound is related to cadaverine. Both substances are produced by the breakdown of amino acids in living and dead organisms, he said.
According to Bernstein, you place a tiny drop of the material on one of a dog’s toys, then tell it to go fetch, or you hide it.
When the dog finds the toy, it also smells the rancid compound and, hence, a cadaver-sniffing dog is born.
“After a while, when you let these dogs out to find possible victims, they just see it as a game of hide-and-seek,” Bernstein said. “They’re not looking for victims. They’re looking for their toys. It’s one big game.”
The same game resumes today
Contact reporter Tom Ragan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5512.