Gary Layton, who baby-sits for three children ages 5 and under, was off duty Wednesday night when he heard about a fire at the complex where they all live.
The possibility that his young charges might have been injured sent him running from the Fremont Street Experience to the Hidden Village Apartments near Bruce Street and Charleston Boulevard.
Emergency medical personnel were performing CPR on two of the children when he arrived.
Layton screamed at firefighters and told them another child was still in the home.
Three-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, and their 5-year-old brother were rescued from the 8:15 p.m. blaze. They suffered smoke inhalation and were rushed to University Medical Center in critical condition.
Layton said he cried as he watched the children fighting for their lives.
So he was shocked to learn from Las Vegas police that the mother, Jessica Warthen, was blaming him for leaving the children unsupervised during the fire.
"It blows my mind," Layton said Thursday while at the complex at 1825 Lewis Ave. "I really couldn't believe it. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry."
Las Vegas police are investigating the fire and expect to file felony charges in the case soon.
Police wouldn't say who the charges will be filed against.
Layton had been baby-sitting the children every night since Sunday. Warthen told him early Wednesday morning that she didn't need him that night.
Warthen could not be reached for comment.
But the children's grandmother, Michelle Davenport of Albany, Ga., defended Warthen on Thursday night.
"She was a good mother around me," Davenport said. "I can't say what she's doing there."
Warthen moved to Las Vegas in 2011, Davenport said.
Two of the children were in serious condition, and one remained in critical condition Thursday night, a UMC spokeswoman said.
The accidental blaze burned a mattress and caused $5,000 in damage.
The fire was set by children playing with a lighter or matches, according to Las Vegas Fire Department spokesman Tim Szymanski.
Las Vegas police spokeswoman Laura Meltzer said Thursday afternoon she expects investigators probably will recommend three felony charges of child neglect with substantial bodily harm in connection with the fire.
Layton recalled seeing the children's mother at the scene. He said she remained calm until investigators turned their attention to her and she began weeping.
Layton said he thought Warthen had been at a friend's home, which he said must have been nearby because she was "in a robe and some skimpy clothes."
Christine Skorupski, a spokeswoman with the Clark County Department of Family Services, said Thursday afternoon that a near-fatality investigation was being conducted by her agency because of the fire.
Within five business days, a disclosure report will be posted on the Nevada Division of Child and Family Services' website that details what occurred and any prior history the family might have had with the agency, she said.
Layton, who lives below the apartment where the fire happened, said he began baby-sitting the children Sunday.
His shifts were late, typically beginning at 9 p.m. and extending into the early morning hours.
Layton contended that the children's mother clearly told him he did not have to baby-sit her children Wednesday night. There was no way there could have been a mix-up, he said.
Layton said police confiscated three of his cellphones after the fire. But he is not worried. He knows he was not supposed to be the caretaker for the children who were injured. He said a phone call he had with the mother will prove it.
"Oh, hell no," said the slender man who wore his red hair in a ponytail. "I'm good. They got search warrants for my phones."
Fire Department officials said that on the night of the fire, a female neighbor ran upstairs and opened the unlocked door of the burning apartment.
Thick smoke engulfed the two-bedroom apartment. The woman screamed for help, and a security guard responded.
The security guard grabbed a fire extinguisher, broke a window and began shooting the extinguisher through the window.
A second neighbor joined in trying to put out the blaze, Fire Department officials said.
When firefighters arrived, they found the children in the apartment's master bedroom. The burning mattress was in another room.
One child was on a bed. Two others were on the floor.
As Layton recounted Wednesday night's blaze, several children played in the apartment complex's parking lot, one flying a kite while others gathered in small groups.
One 9-year-old boy rolled by on a scooter.
"That fire was really, really crazy," he said nonchalantly. "I thought they were going to die."
Contact reporter Antonio Planas at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4638.