MOUND HOUSE - Flames engulfed Nevada's largest brothel Wednesday, destroying more than half of the 45-room structure and causing the evacuation of about a dozen prostitutes.
A fire at the Sagebrush Ranch brothel, located on Kit Kat Drive off Highway 50 east of Carson City, was reported at 7:20 a.m. and within an hour 35 firefighters were on the scene trying to combat the flames with a limited supply of available water.
It wasn't until about 10 a.m. that the fire was declared under control.
Although the cause is still officially under investigation, witnesses said it was likely a candle in one of the front rooms.
The structure consists of two parts. Sagebrush I - an "L-shaped" conglomeration of four joined pre-manufactured units - and Sagebrush II, a smaller northward addition.
The larger 5,880-square-foot Sagebrush I burned to the ground, but firefighters were able to keep the flames from reaching the addition by cutting a defense line with a chainsaw. At most, said Emergency Management Coordinator Dan O'Brien, Sagebrush II received minor smoke damage.
One firefighter said the burned half of the brothel, which had an appraised value of $252,279, had a central ventilating system that may have contributed to the spread of the fire throughout its approximate 100-foot length.
The problem of the open corridor for heat and flame expansion was compounded by the flammability of the pre-manufactured units, said Central Lyon County Fire Protection District Chief Bill Driscoll. "They are very difficult to deal with in fires."
The lack of available water made it impossible for firefighters to stop the original building's total destruction.
"We sat around and watched it burn because there was no water," a volunteer firefighter said. The nearest hydrants were two blocks up the road at the Highway 50 intersection.
"I saw the fire truck go down the hill. It didn't do anything to prevent the fire," said Nadia, a working girl at Kitty's Guest Ranch, located across the street from the Sagebrush. "They let it burn."
Firefighters were forced to fill up water trucks at the hydrants, transport the water to a temporary holding tank, which resembled a 2,000-gallon portable swimming pool, and then pump it onto the flames. During those first critical minutes, the fire gained unchallenged momentum.
O'Brien echoed the sentiments of firefighters and observers.
"The most significant problem we had was the lack of fire hydrants to maintain an adequate supply," he said. "That is what most hampered the fighting of the fire."
American Red Cross and Lyon County Human Services Department offered help with food and lodging for any women left homeless as a result of the fire.
"We're more than willing to help," said Leslie Schaffer, executive director of Red Cross's Reno office. "But Red Cross services have not been requested."
Human services may join the recovery effort if initial services are rendered by the Red Cross and Salvation Army.
The Kit Kat and Kitty's, the two brothels that share a parking lot with the Sagebrush, offered food and quarters to the suddenly homeless prostitutes. The Kit Kat inhabits two buildings, one built in the early 80s and another in the early 90s.
"We're trying to comfort and accommodate as many as we can," Kitty's owner Dennis Hof said. "What we're going to do is double up the rooms and have one girl go in when another's shift is over."