Updated January 19, 2021 - 4:49 pm
A wind-whipped fire destroyed an under-construction apartment complex in the southwest Las Vegas Valley early Tuesday, sending embers over several city blocks and causing an estimated $25 million to $30 million in damage.
Clark County Deputy Fire Chief Warren Whitney said firefighters had nearly extinguished all remaining hot spots at the 206-unit Ely at Fort Apache complex by late Tuesday morning and were working to determine the cause of the enormous blaze, which started near West Tropicana Avenue and South Fort Apache Road about 11:50 p.m. Monday.
Whitney said the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is assisting with the investigation.
“At this point they are debating whether or not to call their national response team,” Whitney said of the ATF. “That decision will be made if they don’t see anything in the video footage they get.”
The apartment complex was about 50-percent complete before it caught fire. Wind-driven embers started other fires within a half-mile radius, firefighters said. The three-alarm blaze was battled by nearly 100 firefighters from all departments in the Las Vegas Valley, said Clark County Assistant Fire Chief Scott Carnahan.
“We had fires from the main spot near Tropicana … all the way to Hacienda,” Carnahan said.
— Sean McCormack (@ThePokerBoss) January 19, 2021
The fire was fueled by exposed wood and other construction materials.
Police helped evacuate about 50 residences in the immediate area and shut down several streets at the height of the blaze, which was visible across the Las Vegas Valley.
Several cars that were parked close to the fire had plastic parts melted from the intense heat.
Neighbors described a frightening scene just after midnight. Billy Rehey Thompson lives just south of the fire scene off Pipestone Pass Street.
“I was in the bed, midnight, heard the wind blowing very hard, heard a couple of small explosions, went to the window and saw a fireball up in the sky,” Thompson said. “… I said, ‘Oh my God, this is too big. We’re too close.’ We started gathering our stuff.”
Thompson said Metropolitan Police Department officers soon came banging on his door, telling him to get out. He said he was worried about his house burning down but helped police knock on doors as sparks from the fire floated by.
“Fireflies all in the air, millions of them,” Thompson said. “Looked like Vietnam.”
He also saw what he described as “fireballs” floating down the street where he lives, damaging several cars and setting palm trees on fire. Additional firefighters soon showed up started putting out the small fires while others battled the towering blaze across the street.
Neighbor Curtis Marchand awoke to police knocking on his door.
“When we came out we saw the fire and all the embers, it looked suspicious,” ” Marchand said. “I wasn’t worried about my safety. I was worried more about the homeowners.”
He, his wife and son got their vehicle out of their garage and drove it down the block.
“After that it was break out our hoses and put out our trees,” Marchand said, adding he thought the police evacuation was efficient, but added that it took some time for firefighters to get to his neighborhood.
‘Like it was sunshine’
Eric Roberts, executive director of the Nevada Assembly Republican Caucus, whose condo borders the under-construction complex, said he woke up to the sound of sirens and popping, which he thought was gunshots at first.
— Greg Bailor (@G_BAILOR) January 19, 2021
Curious, Roberts walked into the front room of his condo. “From the window, it was so bright — like it was sunshine in there,” he said.
He then realized there were flames just outside his condo, on the other side of a wall. He guessed they reached about 100 to 200 feet into the air. The popping he heard was wood burning, he said. His window blinds were melting.
Roberts decided to evacuate to a friend’s home, grabbing his laptop and 6-year-old Maltipoo named Aloe.
“As soon as I opened the door, you could feel the heat, like you’d feel at a campfire,” Roberts said.
It wasn’t until he safely arrived at his friend’s home about five miles away that he realized the back, plastic bumper of his Honda CR-V and rear light covers had melted from the heat.
“It was that hot,” he said.
Roberts was unsure whether his condo was damaged from the heat or flames.
The apartment complex was being built by The Calida Group, one of Las Vegas’ biggest apartment developers. Calida co-founder Eric Cohen declined to comment on the fire until company executives understand what happened.
According to marketing materials, the Ely at Fort Apache complex was slated to feature stainless steel appliances, quartz countertops, poolside cabanas, a game room, a dog park and outdoor fire pits.
In June 2019, a massive fire destroyed an 84,000-square-foot business complex near the Strip that housed 24 units, burning for more than 12 hours as crews battled it. The two-story structure had no sprinklers
Contact Glenn Puit at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0390. Follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter. Contact Marvin Clemons at email@example.com. Follow @Marv_in_Vegas on Twitter. Contact Alexis Ford at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0335. Follow @alexisdford on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Eli Segall contributed to this report.