41°F
weather icon Clear

Deadly Alpine fire prompts Clark County to catalog dangerous buildings

Updated January 21, 2020 - 4:55 pm

Clark County officials are building a database of apartment complexes in their jurisdiction that keeps track of fire protection at each, including notes on whether the complex has fire sprinklers and interconnected smoke alarms.

In the aftermath of the deadliest residential blaze in Las Vegas city history, county commissioners want to take steps in an effort to prevent a similar tragedy.

“This is obviously an issue that is on the minds of all of us at the County Commission after the Alpine apartment fire,” Commissioner Justin Jones said Tuesday, referring to the blaze that killed six people in downtown Las Vegas last month.

Jones requested that county staffers identify the county’s most vulnerable apartment complexes so they can be inspected within the next three to four months. The county will send letters to property owners within the next 30 days to inform them inspections will be coming.

He asked officials to decide whether to inspect a broad segment of complexes or perhaps only older properties not required by state law to be outfitted with modern fire safety measures such as sprinklers.

Outgoing Fire Chief Greg Cassell said properties will be prioritized by occupancy and age as officials gather information.

Much work remains

Jones also wants to determine within the next 30 days whether the county could employ contract inspectors as additional resources.

“I feel like we need to do something,” he said.



But as county and city officials proceed with inventories of potentially problematic buildings in their respective jurisdictions, it has become clear that there is much work to be done.

Jones had questioned whether the county’s building department could distinguish how many complexes had exits to the outside in each unit as opposed to only exits via a center hallway, as was the case with the Alpine Motel Apartments.

Jerry Stueve, the director of the county’s Department of Building and Fire Prevention, said officials had identified “a number” of (center hallway apartments), “but I can’t tell you exactly how many and whether or not we’ve captured them all.”

Stueve said officials have inspected 980 apartments, but he added that it was unclear both whether those were complexes or units and when they had been inspected. A county spokesman did not immediately respond to a message seeking clarification. Stueve said it was also not certain how many buildings were constructed prior to requirements that they have fire sprinklers.

Buildings are required to adhere only to the fire safety rules in place when they were built, leaving older complexes at risk with equipment that’s not up to modern standards. A major exception to the rules is a law enacted following the MGM Grand fire in 1980 that killed 87 people, requiring fire sprinkler systems to be installed in all existing high-rise buildings taller than 55 feet.

The Alpine did not have a sprinkler system, and smoke detectors were defective in at least 14 locations throughout the building, city fire officials said.

A Review-Journal investigation in 2018 found that deadly fires often occurred at older residences lacking current safety measures. The issue extended to the unincorporated county as well.

Stueve underscored that inspections have remained a priority for the department, balancing existing buildings with new construction, which historically has been where fire prevention staffers have focused their efforts.

He also said that officials were committed to holding property owners accountable for the safety of their tenants and that officials did not find any record of properties in the unincorporated county owned by Dragon Hotel LLC, the company that owns the Alpine.

County considers other efforts

Commissioner Tick Segerblom on Tuesday asked county staffers to research the costs of retrofitting older residential buildings with modern equipment, including larger water lines to fight fires, and consider how the county might be able to help subsidize those expenses.

Local governments must obtain approval from Nevada’s Board of Examiners, however, before they can adopt safety requirements that are more stringent than state statutes.

But Segerblom expressed caution for another reason.

“My concern is that if we did some retrofitting, it would raise the cost of the building so much that a lot of these low-income tenants wouldn’t be (able) to live there anymore,” he said. “And we obviously don’t want to drive them out because we’re really limited in affordable housing.”

Commissioner Jim Gibson said it seemed like a reasonable request to require that on-site workers and managers in apartment complexes be trained on evacuation routes. Cassell drew on that request to suggest that it be mandated that a fire safety plan be provided to tenants.

But Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick said she believed that fire safety plans are already required under state law, and instead she pressed for renewed inspections to ensure that property owners are in compliance with such plans.

“I get this is a huge, monumental task, and I get the importance of it,” she said. “But I also am a realist on what we can actually get done sooner rather than later.”

As officials on Tuesday discussed limiting the threat to older residential buildings, they also raised nuances for consideration: Code enforcement would continue to play a key role, fire crews were instrumental in reporting building issues they noticed during daily medical calls and the public is also relied on to report dangerous issues in apartment complexes.

Still, Kirkpatrick noted, as Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman had before, that many tenants are hesitant to speak up because they fear being kicked out of their apartment.

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
The Nevada caucus in photos
Best shots from the Review-Journal photo staff's coverage of the Nevada Caucus, Saturday, February 22, 2020.
Bernie Sanders announces his Nevada caucus win to supporters in Texas
At a rally in San Antonio, Texas, Bernie Sanders announces winning the Nevada Democratic caucus.
Joe Biden addresses supporters in Las Vegas
Joe Biden energizes a crowd of supporters at the IBEW Hall in Las Vegas after the Nevada Democratic caucus.
Tweet highlights from the 2020 Nevada Democratic caucus
Confusion, flaring tempers and misinformed volunteers highlighted Review-Journal tweets during the Nevada Democratic caucus.
Voters comment on Nevada Democratic caucus - VIDEO
Nevada caucusgoers comment on the process from locations across the Las Vegas Valley, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Doolittle Community Center hosts caucuses - VIDEO
The Doolittle Community Center hosted six precincts in one room for the Nevada Democratic caucuses, and voters engaged in debate and discussion about who to lead each precinct, Feb. 22, 2020. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Desert Oasis High School has wait for caucus check-in - VIDEO
James Strange has been waiting in line to caucus for the first time for 45 minutes and some said they have been waiting for an hour at Desert Oasis High School for the Nevada Democratic caucuses. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Conservative guru encourages Republicans to vote in Democratic caucuses - VIDEO
Republican activist Chuck Muth encourages his fellow GOP members to change party affiliation for a day to elect Bernie Sanders. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Nevada Congresswoman Susie Lee at Desert Oasis High School - VIDEO
Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., stopped by the Nevada Democratic caucus at Desert Oasis High School in Las Vegas, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Caucus day in Summerlin - VIDEO
Out-of-state caucus observer Ken Valz speaks about the Nevada Democratic caucuses at Palo Verde High School, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Doors open for Nevada Democratic caucuses - VIDEO
Caucusgoers are lining up Saturday morning to take part in the Nevada Democratic caucuses across the state (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Caucus day at East Last Vegas Community Center - VIDEO
Registration begins at the East Las Vegas Community Center for the Nevada Democratic caucuses, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
It’s caucus day in Nevada - VIDEO
Democrats will gather at over 250 locations across the state to declare their presidential preferences in the Nevada caucuses, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Democratic caucus-goers lined up to register at Liberty High - VIDEO
Democratic caucus-goers lined up to register at Liberty High in Henderson, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Elizabeth Warren holds rally with Julian Castro
Elizabeth Warren held her Get Out the Caucus Block Party with Secretary Julián Castro at the Clark County Government Center Amphitheater.
Trump caps western swing with campaign rally in Las Vegas
President Trump speaks to an enthusiastic crowd of thousands gathered at the Las Vegas Convention Center during a tour across the western United States.
Anti-Trump Protestors at LVCC Rally - Video
President Trump speaks at a Keep America Great rally as a small group of protesters gather outside the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Thousands gather for Trump rally
Thousands showed up for President Donald Trump’s rally Friday morning, forming a line that stretched nearly a quarter mile around the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Trump supporters camp outside the Las Vegas Convention Center
Trump supporters camp outside the Las Vegas Convention Center on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, where President Trump will held a rally on Friday in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
President Trump lands in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Donald Trump landed in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, as part of a four-day western state swing. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Long lines during early voting in Las Vegas - VIDEO
The final day of the Nevada Democratic Party’s early presidential caucuses wrapped up Tuesday, as thousands of Democrats lined up at 55 locations around the state for their last shot at filing an early preference card before the traditional caucuses on Saturday. Long lines were seen at CSN Charleston in Las Vegas. (Alexis Egeland/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Last day for early voting at Culinary Union - VIDEO
Voters were still in line just before 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, as early voting in the Nevada Democratic Party caucuses came to a close. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pigeons wearing MAGA hats in Las Vegas - VIDEO
A flock of pigeons wearing Make America Great Again hats and one sporting a Donald Trump hairdo invaded downtown Las Vegas late Tuesday, following their release by an anonymous group: P.U.T.I.N. (Pigeons, United to Interfere Now). (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tuesday is last day to early vote in Nevada Democratic caucuses - VIDEO
Early voting in the Nevada Democratic caucuses ends Tuesday, with sites open throughout Clark County. (Michael Quine and James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Democratic candidates Elizabeth Warren and Tom Steyer talk pay for child care workers - Video
Elizabeth Warren and Tom Steyer talk to care in action about the importance of Medicare for All, paid leave and child care. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Elizabeth Warren barnstorms Nevada ahead of caucuses - VIDEO
Warren is trying to drum up enthusiasm about her campaign after finishing fourth in the New Hampshire primary. Her rally drew about 400 people to the student union of the College of Southern Nevada’s Henderson campus. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sen. Jacky Rosen encourages early voting at Culinary Workers 226 - VIDEO
Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., spoke to those casting early caucus votes at the Culinary Workers hall on Monday, Feb. 17, 2020. Early voting in the Nevada Democratic caucuses continues Tuesday. The Nevada Caucuses are Saturday, Feb. 22. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
2020 candidates rally in Southern Nevada ahead of caucus - VIDEO
2020 candidates Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders held rallies all over Southern Nevada on Saturday ahead of the Democratic caucus. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
First day of early voting - VIDEO
Nevada Democrats turned out in force on Saturday for the first day of early voting in the Democratic presidential caucuses.
Biden and Sully Sullenberger speak in Henderson - VIDEO
Presidential candidate Joe Biden and famed pilot Sully Sullenberger spoke at Sun City MacDonald Ranch to get out the vote for early voting for the Nevada caucus. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada Poll: Bernie Sanders leads Democratic presidential candidates - VIDEO
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders leads the presidential field by a solid margin among likely Democratic caucus-goers heading into Nevada’s four-day early voting period, with with 25 percent of respondents expressing support. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada Poll: caucus vs. primary - VIDEO
A new Nevada Poll finds two-thirds of likely Democratic caucus-goers surveyed in a Review-Journal poll say they’d like to see Nevada replace its caucuses with a secret-ballot primary election to determine support for a presidential nominee. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Caucus events Leading up to Caucus Day 2020 - VIDEOl
As presidential candidates make their way to Las Vegas, here's a look at events, dates and times for the days leading up to Nevada's Caucus Day 2020 on Feb. 22. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Election 2020: Nevada Caucus and Early Voting - Video
AARP's Nevada Caucus discussion with Steve Sebelius about the Nevada Caucus and early voting.
Election 2020: Nevada Caucus - Video
AARP's Nevada Caucus Discussion with Steve Sebelius. Join us as we discuss the Nevada Caucus process.
Las Vegas ready to enforce homeless camping ban - VIDEO
Las Vegas police will begin enforcing a controversial camping ban on city streets on Saturday, but officials say they expect to impose the penalties available under the new ordinance only in rare instances. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Yvanna Cancela Speaks on Supporting Biden - Video
The RJ Politics podcast crew sits down with Nevada State Senator Yvanna Cancela to discuss why she is supporting former Vice President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential race.
Tom Steyer on Donald Trump and the economy - Video
Tom Steyer joins the RJ Politics podcast to talk about his campaign presence in Nevada and how he plans to take Trump on when talking about the economy. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas City Council Votes On Homeless Ordinance - Video
The Las Vegas City Council on Wednesday will discuss expanding on a controversial camping and sleeping ban aimed at deterring the homeless from bivouacking on city streets to include hours when public sidewalks are being cleaned.
Pete Buttigieg Speaks At Black Empowerment Event - Video
Pete Buttigieg speaks at a black empowerment event to talk about his Douglass plan.
THE LATEST