Sergio Salazar tried to break through the wall of a burning shed with a pickax to save the boy inside.
After a few blows, the handle broke.
By the time firefighters arrived at the blaze near Oakey Boulevard and Eastern Avenue on Thursday afternoon, all was lost. A 7-year-old boy, identified by neighbors as Jacob West, was found dead inside the shed.
The boy’s 10-year-old brother, identified by neighbors only as “Junior,” suffered burns to his arms and legs. He remains hospitalized at University Medical Center, Tim Szymanski, spokesman for the Las Vegas Fire Department, said Friday.
Fire officials have closed the case, citing the cause of the 4:30 p.m. blaze in the 2300 block of Howard Drive as “children playing with fire.”
Criminal charges will not be filed against any of the parents, Las Vegas police said.
Neighbors told fire investigators that four children had been setting off fireworks inside the one-story, vacant home, which had a shed attached to its carport. The house sits between Salazar’s house and the Wests’ home in a cul-de-sac.
Children started playing inside the vacant home after the occupants moved out Wednesday and left the doors unlocked, Szymanski said.
At one point, after lighting fireworks in different parts of the house, the brothers made their way to the shed, where they lit a fire. When it grew larger than expected, one of the brothers tried to put it out by dumping a bucket of what he thought was water on it, Salazar’s 8-year-old son told him.
“But it turned out to be some sort of blue chemical,” Salazar said.
Firefighters do not know what the chemical was, but it caused the fire to rip through the carport, get under the eaves of the house and spread to the attic, causing $75,000 in damage and killing Jacob, who attended Beckley Elementary School.
He was the fourth person to die because of a fire in Las Vegas this year, Szymanski said.
A shrine has gone up outside the house of the brothers.
Candles and a photograph of the two brothers sit on a brick wall, and classmates have written messages to Jacob on a piece of cloth. Jacob was described as “the quieter” of the brothers.
Salazar believes the boy must have died well before the fire burned the carport. He never heard any cries for help as he tried to break into the shed.
“I think he must have fainted from the smoke,” said Salazar, 31. “It’s such a sad story. It really kills me that I wasn’t able to get to him in time.”
His wife tried to help using the family’s garden hose on the fire.
Szymanski urged parents to keep a close eye on their children at all times of the day and to make sure that they don’t play with matches or fireworks.
“Everybody should learn something from this so we can prevent future deaths,” he said.
Contact reporter Tom Ragan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5512.