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More than 45 people left without home after east Las Vegas fire

Updated July 1, 2019 - 8:47 pm

A fire ripped through an apartment building Monday afternoon in an east valley complex, displacing 46 people.

The flames destroyed four of eight units in the building at the Sonoma Hills Apartments, 5100 E. Tropicana Ave., near North Nellis Boulevard, Clark County Fire Department Chief Greg Cassell said Monday. Investigators determined a small child playing with fire ignited the building.

Firefighters were called about 1:35 p.m. and saw flames on a first-floor apartment quickly spreading to the above units and the roof, Cassell said. The fire’s rapid expansion combined with breezy winds and temperatures near 105 degrees prompted the department to call in reinforcements, he said.

The blaze left 31 adults and 15 children without a home, and the Red Cross of Southern Nevada is working to assist with shelter, clothes and medicine for those affected, Cassell said.

The Fire Department called in additional resources to help cycle crews in and out of firefighting efforts during the July heat. Firefighters took turns resting in the shade and drinking fluids while others worked to extinguish the hotspots still smoldering.

On Monday afternoon, a fire investigator standing in an engine’s elevated basket took pictures from above the blackened building. Pieces of seared roofing and siding hung from the several units. Water formed a steady fall from what remained of the second-floor units.

Many neighbors and residents watched from their balconies, stairways and porches. Francisco Gonzalez, 27, wore a dazed expression while holding his 1-year-old son.

Gonzalez’s wife woke him up to say there was a fire. He, his wife and their three children escaped the flames. He didn’t think their three cocker spaniels made it out, although the Fire Department later said three dogs were rescued and reunited with their owners.

Gonzalez’s apartment was one of the four destroyed by the fire. He wasn’t sure what his family was going to do.

“I don’t even know, man,” said Gonzalez, adjusting his hold on his son. “I’ve got my mind on other (things) right now.”

‘Problematic’ construction

The building had smoke alarms but no sprinklers. It also had highly flammable wooden siding and shingles, Cassell said. Such construction is common in the valley’s older apartment complexes, he said.

“That’s a problematic type of construction for us,” Cassell said, “wood, in the desert, 105, winds, three or four minutes of response time, two or three minutes of call-taking and two minutes of recognition time, that fire could burn for as much as 10 minutes before we ever get here.”

A monthslong Las Vegas Review-Journal investigation in 2018 found most deadly fires clustered in areas with older homes and apartments, where current safety measures such as sprinklers and interconnected smoke alarms are not required.

Of the 41 fatal fires in the city of Las Vegas between 2008 and 2018, 35 occurred in the city’s three oldest and most urban wards, leaving 38 people dead.

Older neighborhoods in unincorporated Clark County — with structures built between the 1960s and 1980s — also typically see more fires than areas with newer construction, Clark County spokesman Erik Pappa has said.

One person suffered a minor burn, and three pet birds died in Monday’s fire, the Fire Department said. One more dog was still missing as of Monday night.

A total of 80 Clark County firefighters worked on the call, and they received additional help from the Las Vegas Fire Department.

Dollar damage to the building hadn’t been estimated.

Contact Mike Shoro at mshoro@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290. Follow @mike_shoro on Twitter.

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