MOUND HOUSE - A candle in a prostitute's room apparently started the Sagebrush Ranch brothel fire, though no official confirmation had been made by Wednesday afternoon.
Women working at the Sagebrush told firefighters and people at the neighboring Kitty's and Kit Kat brothels that a candle at Sagebrush I triggered the Tuesday morning fire that ultimately burned down the brothel.
The adjacent Sagebrush II remained intact and will likely reopen in about three weeks after smoke damage is fixed, several people said.
The cause of the fire has not been determined, said Dan O'Brien, Lyon County's emergency management coordinator.
"(The state fire marshals) have not been able to get in there and investigate," O'Brien said.
Even while the Sagebrush burned, Kitty's general manager Jan Cook grabbed a plastic garbage bag and inspected all the rooms at Kitty's for candles.
"This is our biggest fear, that girls have candles and incense," said Cook, finding two candles in her inspection. "It's against the rules. I do fine the girls if I find candles."
Speculation during the fire also attributed the cause to a space heater.
"The reality is space heaters, candles and incense are the death of the brothels," said Dennis Hof, owner of Kitty's Guest Ranch and the Moonlite Bunnyranch brothels, both in Mound House. "We don't even allow girls to have candles in their rooms."
George Flint, a brothel lobbyist associated with the former Mustang Ranch brothel, said he would not be surprised if a candle were the cause of the Sagebrush fire.
"I think we need to reevaluate our fire protection programs," Flint said about Nevada's 30 or so legal brothels. "Most brothels discourage candles. They're really a no-no in some places."
Flint said about a dozen women were at the Sagebrush when the fire broke out and that owner Marvin Gates, under the corporate name Venture Realty Inc., will try to have Sagebrush II operational again in three weeks. Flint and O'Brien both heard that Gates intends to rebuild Sagebrush I.
Sagebrush women, many wrapped in blankets, congregated with Kitty's and Kit Kat women in the street as the intense fire billowed thick black smoke easily visible from Carson City and Douglas County.
"I just think this is terrible because they've lost everything," said Nadia, a working girl at Kitty's. "We're sisters. We see each other at Wal-Mart."
Prostitutes at Nevada's legal brothels are independent contractors who supply their own outfits, televisions, VCRs and stereos. The brothel is considered a home to them and many at the Sagebrush lost their cash earnings.
"We have an average of $2,000 in clothes and furnishings," said Morgan, also a Kitty's prostitute. Sagebrush prostitutes wouldn't speak with Nevada Appeal reporters.
"It's the girls' home," Kitty's bartender Sandra Buttler said. "This is home. That's putting 50 girls homeless and jobless."
Sagebrush I and II, separate buildings with a total of 45 rooms, was the largest active brothel in Nevada since the federal government shut down the Mustang Ranch in August. Forty women are registered with the Lyon County Sheriff's Department to work at the Sagebrush.
The three brothels on Kit Kat Drive shut down during the fire, as working girls consoled Sagebrush women and watched the fire burn. Prostitutes Morgan, Sheridan and Nancy watered down the roof at Kitty's, directly across from the fire.