Witnesses told authorities that a Las Vegas apartment complex that caught fire Saturday, killing six people and injuring 13 others, lacked heating and that the occupants were using the stove to keep warm when the blaze broke out.
The blaze at the three-story motel apartment complex appears to have been an accident, officials said.
“This is the worst fire fatality that we’ve had in the city of Las Vegas since the inception of the fire department,” city spokesman Tim Szymanski said in a press conference. “We’ve never had six (fatalities) at one time.”
The fire started around 4 a.m. in a first-floor unit of the Alpine Motel Apartments in Downtown Las Vegas, Szymanski said.
Authorities received multiple 911 calls and arrived on the scene to find heavy smoke and several people hanging out of windows. Several jumped and were injured, including a pregnant woman who was in critical condition, Szymanski said. Another person who jumped broke their legs and, possibly, their back.
A fall from 16 feet can be fatal, Szymanski said.
“I don’t think there is anything that is more disturbing than to pull up on a three-story building and see multiple people hanging out a window with heavy black smoke coming out of that building,” Szymanski said.
The fire chief immediately signaled a second alarm, which called 10 more ambulances to the scene.
Responders put out the fire within five minutes, and no firefighters were injured.
“You cannot imagine how unbearable the conditions are when you’re inside a building that catches fire,” Szymanski said. “Polyurethane foam makes a nauseous smoke. It’s like being underneath water. You are absolutely not going to be able to breath. It’s poison.”
Authorities took 10 people to the hospital, five were in critical condition and another three took themselves, Szymanski said. One person died at the hospital.
Fire fighters found several bodies inside the building, Szymanski said. They also found another body outside the building on the sidewalk.
The fire displaced about 30 to 35 people, Szymanski said. The evacuees were gathering at Las Vegas High School, where the American Red Cross and city’s emergency personnel were caring for them. At least two people were in wheel chairs, according to a fire department tweet.
The incident was under investigation, which is standard procedure in fatal fires, the department said. Authorities had received reports that fire alarms didn’t go off and would be looking into any possible code violations, Szymanski said.
He estimated the damage to be $475,000.
Szymanski urged people not to use stoves as sources of heat.
“We’ve got Christmas trees, candles, heating devices,” Szymanski said. “This is the perfect storm for fires. This is the period that makes firefighters the most nervous.”
Alpine Motel Apartments could not immediately be reached for comment.