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‘Insult to injury’: Residents burglarized after massive downtown Las Vegas fire

Updated July 3, 2022 - 7:06 pm

Preparing to move in together last summer, a young couple found their perfect nest in a three-story town house in the center of downtown Las Vegas.

Natural light that beamed through the windows nurtured their ever-growing plant collection. An extra floor allowed them to work from home, and their social hangout spots were within walking distance.

“This literally fit everything,” Emily Smith, 28, said from the other side of a fence overlooking the couple’s heavily-damaged rental home, torched in a June blaze deemed the biggest in the city in at least a quarter-century.

Burglars broke into the evacuated property days later, ransacked and vandalized it, she said, “adding insult to injury.”

Small, but irreplaceable sentimental belongings spared by flames were destroyed.

An art collection Smith had planned to exhibit was ravaged by the flames, and the burglars squeezed out paint from tubes, causing additional needless damage.

Burglars had draped a quilt on stairs and a backyard wall to help move stolen items, and they even stuck around to smoke pot and drink warm beer from their refrigerator, Smith said.

Contractors hired to board up doors and windows did not protect a window and a glass door that were shattered in the burglary, Smith said. She was allowed to go into the home days after the fire, and returned to find the destruction.

“Take the stuff that you want, but why is there need to upturn my 10-11 Rubbermaid totes?” she lamented, “Something that you could tell is old, a keepsake, don’t touch it. Like, just why?”

Smith and her boyfriend Chris Hatchett, 36, who specialize in massage therapy, sound healing and tantra and life coaching, found themselves struggling to console each other.

“That was insulting,” Smith said. “I don’t know how to describe that type of violation.”

Residents fed up

Residents at Urban Lofts Townhomes say multiple neighbors displaced after the June 19 early morning blaze have suffered the same fate, and that ongoing issues with intruders and petty crime in their gated community were only exasperated in the aftermath of the fire.

About thirty residents gathered Wednesday night on a driveway of their community for a lengthy discussion about public safety, and their plan to move forward.

During the sometimes contentious conversation, the residents spoke about their limited options.

The homeowner’s association had hired security firms, and erected lights at the burned down section. But funds were quickly running low, they said, noting that the Metropolitan Police Department had not always been responsive to their complaints.

Meanwhile, the break-ins continued and intruders continued to climb over the walls into the neighborhood, they said.

The residents started a private Facebook group, where someone uploaded a video of an intruder who they detained. The man fled, and it took police six hours to respond, resident Matalie Avila said.

Metro did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Fernando Miro bought his corner town house in 2016, and moved in the following year.

In the dark early morning hours, his roommate had called him to say the neighborhood was engulfed in flames, and when he drove in he thought “all my stuff is gone.”

He was fortunate that his house was still livable, but the fire shattered all of his front-facing windows and melted the garage door shut. His Ring doorbell and security cameras were decimated.

The neighborhood is neglected by police, he said.

Before the fire, he said, he would take his dog out to his backyard to find syringes, underwear and anything else “you can name.”

Numerous calls to police and the homeowners association were futile, Miro said, adding that “it’s very disheartening, it’s very scary, it’s very stressful.”

“It’s so much that it’s so exhausting,” Miro said. “You don’t even know what to do, because the police doesn’t have your back, the police doesn’t do anything for you.”

Las Vegas Fire Department officials said the blaze, which they think was sparked at an under-construction fourplex did not appear suspicious. At least 10 buildings, including businesses and units adjacent to the complex, were damaged, and dozens of cars were burned, officials said.

The homeowners association organized a Thursday night video call with residents, high-ranking officials from Metro, the fire department and Las Vegas City Councilwoman Olivia Diaz.

“The city and myself are really empathetic with everything that has happened and transpired since the fire, and we’ve been very diligent in listening to all our constituents’ concerns,” Diaz told the Review-Journal.

Because the complex is private property, Diaz said, there are limitations with what officials can do. But she noted that Metro vowed to increase patrols in the neighborhood, and that city officials instructed staff to look into installing more lights.

That downtown area has had issues with vagrancy due to the number of unoccupied buildings, Diaz said. The project manager for the firm that was building the fourplex said there were issues with NV Energy, allowing the construction to stall and the site to become a “sitting duck” for intruders.

“There’s a lot of places that should be occupied,” Diaz said. “We know that Fremont East has struggled for a while now, and we hope that we can move the needle in terms of economic development on that side of Fremont.”

Since the meeting, Metro staged a patrol cruiser in the Urban Lofts complex, and the homeowners association had cameras installed.

Loss of home

Smith recalled her boyfriend’s scream when the fire broke out. They evacuated their home with only the clothes they were wearing. She remembered the “glowing orange” and insulation engulfed by blames flying near her in the strong winds. She said she urged firefighters to check on her neighbors who had just had a baby.

She stayed at the complex, punching the gate code every time a fire engine showed up.

A friend had allowed them to stay at her house temporarily, but recently told them they had to find a new place to stay, she said.

Smith also has been in a dispute with her insurance company, which estimated that they would only pay for about a fourth of the losses they incurred, she said.

An entertainment center on the second floor spared by flames and water held recording equipment the couple was using to launch a podcast and YouTube series about their expertise. The burglars stole that, along with the hard drives that held their material.

“The content is in our brain,” but countless hours of work were lost, she said. The couple launched a GoFundMe campaign to help restart their lives.

Smith and Hatchett are left with few options, and might need to move out of state. Other rentals are either too expensive, or located in problem areas, she said.

“All of those tinier issues were like precursors,” she said. “But at the same time, we loved this house, and we loved being in downtown with all of our friends and our workspace.”

She added: “I don’t regret moving here a lot. I just wish there was more care and consideration for the community that wants to make downtown accessible and easy for all people.”

Contact Ricardo Torres-Cortez at rtorres@reviewjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @rickytwrites.

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