Six Dead Following Las Vegas, NV Apartment Fire
Building had previously been cited for violations of fire safety code
Six people, all adults, are dead following a fire at a Las Vegas hotel that had been converted to a 42-unit, single-room “efficiency” apartments building. According to a spokesperson from the Las Vegas Fire Rescue (LVFR) service, an additional 13 people were injured with at least five of those victims reported to be in critical condition.
The fire struck shortly after 4:00 a.m. on Saturday (December 21st) at the 3-story, wood-framed Alpine Motel Apartments at 9th Street and Stewart Avenue, near Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas. LVFR unites arrived on scene at about 4:13 and were able to extinguish the fire, which apparently began in a first-floor apartment unit whose residents were using an electric stove to heat their unit because the building’s central heating unit had been inoperative for “several weeks,” within a minute.
In a copyrighted story, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that survivors of the blaze told investigators that they were alerted to the fire by other residents who risked their own lives by pounding on individual apartment unit doors because the building’s fire alarm was apparently not working, even after attempts to activate the alarms manually.
Building had a history of fire safety violations
The Review-Journal stated that the building, which was constructed in 1972, was cited 8 times between 2016 and 2018 by city inspectors but that it was unclear if those citations had been resolved prior to Saturday’s fire. However, several residents stated that they were heating their apartments with their stoves because complaints over a lack of heat in the building had gone unheeded by the building’s owner, Las Vegas Dragon Hotel LLC. The same company is also reported to own the Economy Motel and Dragon Motel in Las Vegas as well as the Starlite Motel and Casa Blanca Hotel in North Las Vegas. As of September 30th, an Adolfo Orozco is listed as its registered agent and managing member of Las Vegas Dragon Hotel LLC with no other owners or agents identified. However, a woman who identified herself as Malinda Mier later told reporters from the Review-Journal that she was a co-owner of the Alpine Motel Apartments.
Residents of the upper floors told fire investigators that they were unable to use the front stairwell of the building because of intense smoke blocking their way. When they attempted to exit using the real stairwell, they found that the door leading to a street-level exit had been bolted shut to prevent the homeless from sleeping in the stairwell, thus trapping them on the upper floors with no means of escape before the arrival of the LVFR save jumping from the upper floors’ windows or by attempting to lower themselves to the street using ropes improvised from bed sheets.
LVFR reported that it had discovered three bodies in the building and two additional bodies on the street near the building. A third person who had been transported to a local hospital later died from injuries sustained in a fall.
Any property owner is required to maintain their property in a condition that will minimize the possibility that they, or another, could be injured. In general, these requirements are either specified in the local building and zoning codes or implied under the common law. If the property is classified as being for public use, such as a retail store or any business that is open to the public, the legal requirements are much stricter and include insuring a means of safe exit from the property in case of a fire or natural disaster such as an earthquake. The strictest laws and local regulations are reserved to commercial residential structures such as apartment buildings and hotels, which must insure that the building can be easily evacuated in case of fire.
In the Las Vegas fire, early reports strongly indicate that the property owner was negligent in that:
- the building’s fire alarms were not working,
- there appears to have been no functioning automatic sprinkler system that could have suppressed the fire at its origin, and
- one of the two available fire escapes had been bolted shut and could not be opened.
If the above-listed speculations are later proven, the property owner could be found liable for damages in a civil lawsuit on the grounds that the owner’s negligence was the cause of a victim’s injury. Of course, the same legal reasoning applies to any tenant or visitor who is injured by a property owner whose failure to use sound judgement leads to their injury.
At The Doan Law Firm, we will be following future developments related to this tragedy and will report such information as it becomes available.