City of Las Vegas firefighters battled a 2-alarm blaze in an abandoned building on Charleston Boulevard near Las Vegas Boulevard Monday.
The fire started around 10:30 a.m. in a vacant building on South 3rd, fire officials said.
Flames could be seen on the roof of the two-story building.
Squatters have recently been seen using the building for shelter, and they may be to blame for the blaze.
‘It’s an abandoned building. There’s a lot of problems with the homeless there,” said Shawn Sherman, an eyewitness to the fire.
Sherman lives next door at the Star Motel. He says he sees homeless people coming in and out of the abandoned building all of the time.
Sherman says he has even seen smaller fires in the building.
“I’ve seen smoke from there before,” Sherman said. “They feed themselves, but they leave it burning when they leave.”
Firefighters say squatter problems is something it has to deal with every year during the cold winter months. According to Las Vegas Fire and Rescue, the building has been vacant for about a year — making it a perfect refuge for the homeless.
“This morning was the coldest morning that we’ve had so far this season, so there is probably a good chance that somebody was in there just trying to stay warm,” said Tim Szymanski, Las Vegas Fire and Rescue.
As the temperatures drop, community shelters have an even harder time keeping up with the demand, which leaves some homeless people without a place to stay.
“When it gets cold, we are completely at capacity for the men and women that we take in during the day and in the evening,” said Juan Salinas, The Salvation Army.
The Salvation Army has been at capacity the entire month of December, forcing the organization to refer people to another shelter, but Catholic Charities is also at capacity, and they’re using temporary mattresses to give everyone in need a place to stay.
Now, even though it’s illegal to start a fire inside an abandoned structure, fire investigators say criminal charges are unlikely in this case because they do not believe the fire was intentional.
The cause of the fire is unknown, at this time.
The building appears to be a total loss.