FALLON - An investigation is under way to determine if a fire that destroyed the Salt Wells Villa, a brothel five miles east of Fallon, was deliberately set early Sunday morning.
"There was not an immediate indication of what caused the fire. We are approaching it as if it was intentionally set until it is proven otherwise," Churchill County Sheriff Richard Ingram said Monday.
The fire is suspicious because there was no electricity running to the buildings. Salt Wells used a generator to supply power before it closed in 2004.
A chimney in the bar area and a storage shed stand amid piles of charred rubble that was once an operating brothel licensed to employ six prostitutes in Churchill County. The heat from the blaze melted a plastic sign that once announced "Girls, Girls, Girls" to draw customers in from a remote stretch of Highway 50.
A man who was driving by the abandoned brothel saw flames and called the sheriff's office at 5:06 a.m. Ingram said the man gave his name and telephone number and is not suspected of causing the fire.
As deputies responded, they did not see any vehicles coming into Fallon from the east, and, no one was near the fire when authorities arrived, Ingram said.
NAS Fallon fire crews arrived at 5:23 a.m. and found the main building engulfed in flames and fire spreading into adjoining buildings. Kurt Henning, first assistant fire chief, said firefighters could only save part of a pump house and another exterior building at the far southern end of the property.
Part of the brothel was constructed with old, single-wide mobile homes that were divided into separate rooms where the prostitutes worked.
Henning said it is difficult to save mobile homes from total destruction.
"Old mobile homes burn fast because they were built when the fire codes were different than they are now," he said. "We lost the entire structure. The only thing left are the trailer frames."
Firefighters remained at the scene until 11 a.m. to extinguish the inferno. They returned on Sunday afternoon to put out hot spots that had flared up.
Because of the magnitude of the blaze, Henning called all remaining firefighters to stand by at the station in case they were needed for another call.
"I call for that whenever we have a large fire that far out of town," Henning said. "Our concern is having all that manpower so far out of town. We want to make sure we have a good crew and make sure the town is covered."
In 1974, Churchill County voters decided to allow legal prostitution outside the city limits. Salt Wells Villa and Lazy B, another abandoned brothel that is closer to town, opened and operated for years.
Salt Wells lapsed into serious trouble in 2003 when it was shut down by the Nevada State Health Department because of insufficient potable water on the premises. Other building code violations were also found.
The owner's operating license was revoked in 2004 after deputies found a manager had died and the business was abandoned.
That same year, a group of Fallon residents gained enough signatures to place a measure on the ballot that would have repealed legal prostitution in the county. Voters rejected the ban by a 2-1 margin in the November 2004 general election.
According to Churchill County Recorder's Office records, the property is owned by Tia Maria Torres in Canyon Country, Calif. It was formerly owned by Reno insurance agent R. Scott Rottman.
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