Smoke billowed through windows and fire danced in the sky. More than 200 El Pasoans could only look on, wondering what was next for their South Central El Paso neighborhood.
A fire broke out Thursday afternoon near the 3100 block of Alameda.
The Las Vegas Lounge appears to be a complete loss. Fire crews tell ABC-7 that no one will likely be able to enter the building, however, the chief building inspector said he would wait until Friday morning to make a definitive decision. According to an El Paso Fire Department spokesman, the chief is hoping to see how the building sits overnight.
Meanwhile, Luis Vega says he’s not sure what will happen next. Vega, the owner of the building for the past 40 years, was inside his bar when the fire began. He said six patrons were with him when fire and smoke became visible.
“As soon as I saw that, I (thought) I know what I have to do,” said Vega, explaining he called 9-1-1 and then told everyone to get out.
Twenty-five fire crews arrived at the building. A battalion chief estimated the number of firefighters around 75. However, the bodies were not enough for the situation that began to unfold.
The old brick building buckled, and heat became an issue. It took no more than 30 minutes for fire crews to abandon an offensive fire fight. Instead, crews were evacuated and the fire was fought from the outside with the help of water hoses and ladders situated high above the two story structure.
For a time there was a fear the building could even collapse. A collapse zone was created, and all crews had to stay back.
When the flames settled the Las Vegas Lounge was considered a total loss. The roof had collapsed.
Meanwhile, three buildings were also damaged, however, no one has been inside the view the extent of the damage. That won’t likely happen until early Friday morning.
At least one of the nearby buildings is expected to be OK. The main goal that was achieved was to stop the flames from spreading to an apartment building that housed more than a dozen families. However, not everyone was so lucky.
Dwayne Beck was the sole tenant above Las Vegas Lounge. He moved to El Paso eight years ago and quickly became homeless. Eight years of clawing his way back to a typical life: a roof, an income, a job with a construction company was all washed away Thursday afternoon. He escaped his apartment after flames began climbing his walls. According to Beck, he made it out with the clothes on his back, nothing more.
“I have nothing left, I don’t have a home to go to or anything,” said Beck.
After speaking with ABC-7, Beck did receive some good news. His boss had come to the area to check on him. He told ABC-7 that he had an apartment he would be offering Beck to live in for the coming days.
As for the fire, crews said they would be keeping an eye on it overnight. Most of the firefighters were able to head home.