Woman dies in 5th fire-related death this year in Las Vegas

Updated October 27, 2018 - 5:48 pm

A middle-aged woman was found dead inside a burning apartment early Saturday in the eastern valley, marking the fifth fire-related death in Las Vegas this year.

Crews from Las Vegas and Clark County fire departments were on scene within minutes of receiving the first of multiple 911 calls from residents at the Corona Del Sol Apartments on East Charleston Boulevard, near Lamb and Nellis boulevards. It was still dark outside when they arrived about 5:15 a.m., finding “heavy flames” spilling out of the windows of a second-floor unit in building 4640, according to Las Vegas Fire Department spokesman Tim Szymanski.

Firefighters found the woman on the floor of a bedroom, where investigators believe the fire had started near a closet, although the exact cause of the fire could not immediately be determined Saturday, Szymanski said. The woman was home alone at the time of the fire, and no one else was injured.

“The fire was intense enough that a second alarm was requested to help evacuate the large building and to fight the blaze,” Szymanski said.

Crews were able to control the fire and prevent it from spreading within 15 minutes, but the neighboring apartment to the left was damaged from fire-control operations and the unit below suffered water damage. At least five adults and two children were temporarily displaced and were receiving assistance from the American Red Cross, the department said.

Daylight soon revealed the extensive damage to the apartment. Two windows had been blown out while another was left shattered, shards of glass scattered across the walkway below. What once was a light-gray trim on the roof over the unit was black with soot Saturday afternoon.

Around 1 p.m., the floor of the bedroom where the blaze had erupted was covered in debris, and the fire had left the bedroom without a ceiling, exposing the attic and frame of the stucco building. A mosaic of cracked and chipped white paint spotted the now soot-covered walls.

Just outside of the bedroom window on Saturday afternoon, pink fleece Hello Kitty pajama pants and a green plastic toy truck were peeking out of a knee-high pile of debris sitting on the second-floor walkway.

Two maintenance workers, with beads of sweat beating down their faces, shoveled the soggy debris into trash cans as curious residents walked by, some snapping photos of the damage and making small talk with the workers.

Among those evacuated before dawn was Surilma Mendez, a 24-year-old mother of two young boys. For the last four months, she has lived in the apartment adjacent to the unit where the fire broke out.

More than eight hours after the blaze, Mendez pushed a stroller carrying her two sons through the complex lined with white and tan buildings punctuated by bright-orange accents and doors secured by black metal gates.

The worried mom said she didn’t go to work Saturday because of the fire, and instead spent the day avoiding her apartment. As she spoke, the windows to her unit were wide open to air out the smoke that she said had seeped in.

“My throat actually kind of hurts right now,” she said.

Mendez had just come from Corona Del Sol’s leasing office. She said she had hoped to have a few of her concerns addressed, but the office was closed when she got there.

“It is kind of scary because, you know, I do have the two babies,” she said as she held one of her sons in her arms. “I’m scared to go back into the apartment, because what if something else happens?”

Just days before the fire, Mendez said, maintenance workers had gone into her home to check the smoke detectors. But after the fatal fire just on the other side of her walls, she said she isn’t confident they’ll work when they need to.

According to Szymanski, the complex is equipped with smoke alarms, but it remained unclear Saturday whether the detectors inside the burned apartment were operational.

The Metropolitan Police Department’s homicide unit, Las Vegas Fire Department arson investigators and Crime Scene Investigators responded to the scene, which is protocol for all fatal fires.

The woman will be identified by the Clark County coroner’s office.

Contact Rio Lacanlale at rlacanlale@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381. Follow @riolacanlale on Twitter.

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