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Fire officials: Cause of downtown fire does not appear suspicious

Updated June 21, 2022 - 5:52 pm

The cause of a massive fire that broke out Sunday in downtown Las Vegas does not appear to be suspicious, Las Vegas Fire Department officials said Tuesday.

“There’s nothing jumping out at us that says that it was criminal intent of any type,” department spokesman Tim Szymanski told reporters outside the scene Tuesday morning.

Szymanksi said Tuesday was the last day investigators would be at the scene of the fire, which started in a building under construction at the Urban Lofts Townhomes, near Fremont Street and Eastern Avenue. The blaze spread to other homes and a nearby warehouse early Sunday, as high winds forced nearly 100 residents to evacuate.

It was unclear how many homes are now uninhabitable, although fire officials have said at least 10 buildings were affected by the blaze. The unoccupied building where the fire started had been leveled by Tuesday, while nearby buildings showed charcoal black scorches and collapsed attics.

Investigators used an arson dog to look for signs of fuel accelerant at the site, but came back empty. Szymanksi said officials have noted reports of fireworks in the area before the blaze, but the cause of the fire remains unclear.

“There’s a number of things it could have been, but we can’t put our finger on anything,” he said.

Szymanski has said the fire was the largest blaze in the city in the past 25 years.

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

The building that was under construction was meant to be another three-story unit for town homes. But the construction had stalled because NV Energy had not approved of a permit for the third story due to issues with power lines, Szymanski said.

As the fire grew, it spread to power lines and threw the complex into darkness early Sunday. Firefighters driving by on their way back to a station were the first ones to report the flames, and began knocking on doors to evacuate residents.

Szymanski said that with the lack of electricity and growing flames, the blaze “looked like one of those big wildfires in California.” Two residents who recounted escaping their home told the Review-Journal on Monday that “it was raining ember and ash.”

The National Weather Service measured wind speeds of about 9 to 11 mph early Sunday, with gusts up to 24 mph, meteorologist Morgan Stessman has said.

The combination of intense heat and wind “like a blow torch” caused the fire to spread to other buildings, Szymanski said.

The weather service placed the valley under a wind advisory and “red flag warning,” meaning there was an increased risk of fires, throughout the day on Saturday. Szymanski said residents in Clark County should be aware when those conditions occur, when fires like Sunday’s blaze are more likely.

“Some of our worst multiple alarm fires… occurred on red flag days,” he said Tuesday. “So if we get a fire on a red flag day it’s probably going to fly, really bad.”

The Metropolitan Police Department released recordings of 911 calls dispatchers forwarded to the fire department.

Some were passersby who wanted to make sure officials were aware of the fire, while others lived in the neighborhood.

One woman told the operator that an under-construction building next to hers was in flames.

“My neighbor’s house is on fire,” she said, “there’s a whole neighborhood’s going to burn down.”

A second caller reported hearing people screaming, and that the blaze had spread to an adjacent apartment building.

A man called to say that the “big explosive fires” were shooting embers on his roof.

“Our building is about to catch fire,” he told the operator.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter. Reporter Ricardo Torres-Cortez contributed to this story.

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