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Displaced residents moving forward after massive downtown fire

Updated June 20, 2022 - 6:05 pm

When Bill Monnett got home from a bar early Sunday, the condominium he’s lived at for over a year was surrounded by firefighters.

“It was probably one of the most stressful days of my life,” the 42-year-old said, recounting the aftermath of the massive fire in downtown Las Vegas that officials said is the largest blaze in the city in the past 25 years.

The fire broke out in a building under construction at the Urban Lofts Townhomes at 200 Tower St., near Fremont Street and Eastern Avenue, Las Vegas Fire Department Deputy Chief Ashanti Gray said Monday.

About 100 residents in nearby occupied homes were evacuated, and the blaze affected at least 10 buildings and torched dozens of cars.

The only reported injury involved minor smoke inhalation, the Fire Department has said.

On Monday, the American Red Cross urged anyone in need of help after the blaze to visit the organization’s assistance center at Hollingsworth STEAM Academy, 1776 E. Ogden Ave.

“We haven’t seen nearly as many residents as we would have assumed that we would have,” Rachel Flanigan, executive director of the Red Cross’ Southern Nevada chapter, told reporters during a news conference Monday.

The assistance center will be open again at the school on Tuesday and Wednesday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

About 50 people sought out the center on Sunday, but the Red Cross had yet to hear from about 15 families as of Monday morning, said volunteer Diane Orgill. Many of the families that were evacuated Sunday found somewhere to stay or were able to return to their homes, she said.

‘Raining ember and ash’

Monnett arrived at the school at about 11:30 a.m. Monday looking for financial assistance to replace essential items while he stays with a friend. He said the town home next to his was “completely torched,” while his unit suffered water and smoke damage, and now has a hole in the roof.

He had a running list in his head of chores to do in the aftermath of the fire. Volunteers at the school Monday talked him through calling his insurance company and contacting a therapist if he needed help processing the situation.

Monnett said he didn’t know when he would be able to enter his home again.

“My clothes are still there. They just smell like smoke,” he said. “It’s not really habitable.”

Maurice Gregory, 30, and Mackenzie Kitchen, 24, woke up to someone banging on their front door early Sunday. The couple were covered in scratches from frantically ushering their two cats into pet carriers before leaving their home.

“I looked out the window, and it was raining ember and ash, basically,” Gregory told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Monday. “I said, ‘We need to get out right now.’”

Kitchen said the two are unable to return to their home, which was badly damaged by the fire. Red Cross volunteers on Monday promised that someone from the organization would follow up with them in the coming days to make sure they still had a safe place to stay.

“It’s getting more overwhelming as time progresses, because you just realize how much you have to do, and we have to replace everything,” Kitchen said.

The deputy chief said that shortly before 1 a.m. Sunday, firefighters who were driving back to their station were the first people to report the fire.

“They went to investigate after seeing a large amount of smoke,” Gray said, adding that the unoccupied building was fully engulfed in flames when they started to evacuate neighboring homes.

Winds fueled the fire

Fire Department spokesman Tim Szymanski said gusting winds early Sunday helped grow the fire and push it toward other buildings, causing a need for more evacuations.

Officials were still investigating the cause of the fire as of Monday afternoon, Szymanski said.

The National Weather Service measured wind speeds of about 8 to 11 mph early Sunday, with gusts up to 24 mph, said meteorologist Morgan Stessman.

Jerry Davidson, 56, who lives in a one-bedroom apartment near where the fire broke out, said he was outside smoking a cigarette early Sunday when he saw the flames start to engulf the building. As officials urged him to evacuate, he watched as the blaze reached a nearby power line.

“As we started walking away, you hear the ‘boom,’ and that’s when all the lights went out,” Davidson said.

As the wind gusted in the neighborhood, Davidson said he was worried that the flames would reach his home. But he was able to return to an undamaged apartment after sitting for hours at the evacuation site Sunday morning.

“It was windy, and you could tell that the wind was actually fueling the fire, which was giving the firefighters a little bit of a hard time putting it out,” Davidson said.

Residents and the construction company working on the complex told the Review-Journal on Sunday that they have had ongoing issues with squatters and people breaking into the complex.

Tracey Hill, the project manager for the complex, said the building was a “sitting duck” for intruders, and that NV Energy had stalled the construction project due to an issue with underground power lines.

The damaged NV Energy utility pole and power lines also caused a large blackout in downtown Las Vegas following the fire. The outage affected 1,950 NV Energy customers, the majority of whom had power again by 6 a.m. Sunday, and the outage was fully resolved by 2:30 p.m., NV Energy spokeswoman Jennifer Schuricht said in a statement Monday.

Las Vegas City Councilwoman Olivia Diaz visited the Red Cross assistance center on Monday to thank the volunteers.

“The city, the mayor, my fellow councilmembers were all devastated by this very heavy news on a Father’s Day,” she said. “We’re just so, so happy, though, and relieved, that there weren’t any casualties, we didn’t lose anybody.”

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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