A fire that destroyed a construction site for a planned Muslim cemetery and funeral home Wednesday morning was a disappointing setback for the local Islamic community.
"Certainly the community was looking forward to it," said Dr. Aslam Abdullah, director of the Islamic Society of Nevada.
Las Vegas does not have a mortuary that specifically serves Muslims, and this would have filled a void, Abdullah said.
"It's a setback; there's no doubt. But I hope that it's not arson. I hope it's not some sort of hate crime."
Clark County fire investigators did not release an official cause for the blaze as of Wednesday afternoon. The fire started about 1 a.m. at 4425 E. Cartier Ave., near Lamb Boulevard and Carey Avenue in northeast Las Vegas.
Authorities would not say whether the fire was a hate crime but acknowledged that was being investigated.
"Given the religion that's involved, we just want to make sure there's no implications," Clark County Fire Chief Bertral Washington said.
Abdullah said police have increased patrols at mosques around the valley.
"They're taking precautions. It doesn't appear to be a hate crime, but nothing can be ruled out."
About 60 firefighters from multiple agencies worked to put out the two-alarm fire that engulfed the building. No one was injured.
Officials from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also were investigating because of the site's religious connection. The FBI also was involved, a county spokesman said.
Abdullah said the mortuary was estimated to cost between $1.5 million and $2 million and was about halfway done.
The frame of the building had been completed, and only plastering and the interior were left unfinished. The building was a complete loss, he said.
The undertaking began about two years ago and was spearheaded by Dr. Bashir Chowdhry, chairman of the Islamic Society's board of trustees.
Although others contributed toward the construction, Chowdhry committed most of the funds, Abdullah said.
County records confirm Chowdhry bought the two-acre property in 1990 for $480,000. Chowdhry did not return a phone call Wednesday.
The sirens awakened nearby resident Su-Z Allen, who lost her own home in a fire several years ago.
Allen said she could see white smoke and flames and knew the construction site must be burning.
"One of our dogs makes a keening wail when she hears sirens ever since our fire," she said.
Allen said construction had been stalled on the project for some time.
Abdullah said he has faith in local law enforcement to fully investigate the fire and find a cause.
Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins echoed Abdullah's comments in a statement:
"As the Commissioner who represents this area, I am very concerned about what happened here. I have full faith and confidence in the investigators from the Clark County Fire Department and our partnering agencies to determine what caused this fire."
View News reporter F. Andrew Taylor contributed to this story. Contact reporter Mike Blasky at mblasky@review journal.com or 702-383-0283.