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Firefighters battle second blaze in area of morning explosion

Updated Monday, July 12, 2010 | 8:49 a.m.

Opportunity Village Fire

Firefighters battle a blaze Sunday night at the Opportunity Village Thrift Store. Launch slideshow »

Downtown explosion

A transformer explosion on South Main Street rocked nearby businesses early Sunday morning. Launch slideshow »

Transformer explosion

UPDATED STORY: Opportunity Village looks to rebuild after thrift store fire

Firefighters battled a blaze Sunday evening at a thrift store near the location where an explosion rocked the downtown area earlier in the day.

Las Vegas Fire and Rescue firefighters responded at 5:55 p.m. to the fire at Opportunity Village's thrift store at 10 Coolidge Ave. The smoke from the fire could be seen across the Las Vegas Valley.

Fire department spokesman Tim Szymanski said several people were across the street when smoke started to come from the building. Flames were seen through the roof within minutes.

Szymanski estimated that about 35 percent of the building was destroyed. The roof collapsed over the middle 30 percent, but many of the contents in that area can be saved, he said. The rest of the building suffered only smoke and slight water damage.

A firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Earlier in the day, employees of Opportunity Village waited behind police tape on First Street for more information after learning the thrift store had sustained broken windows during an early morning transformer explosion nearby.

Stephen Miller, special events manager for Opportunity Village, said Sunday evening that the fire would displace several Opportunity Village employees who work at the store. Opportunity Village serves 900 people with intellectual disabilities, about 14 of whom work at the location.

"The next step is we have to figure out where to place the people who work there," Miller said.

The early morning transformer explosion sent two bystanders to the hospital and caused considerable damage to nearby buildings.

Szymanski said the fire department received a call at 6:36 a.m. about an explosion at what witnesses thought was a vacant building at 1004 S. Main. The building is actually a substation of NV Energy surrounded by brick walls to disguise the transformers in the arts district.

Two people on the street at the time of the explosion were taken to University Medical Center suffering from shrapnel wounds and smoke inhalation. Their injuries weren't life-threatening, Szymanski said.

Flying bricks and shrapnel from the explosion broke windows and caused other damage to nearby buildings, he said.

Fire crews saw fire coming from the building when they arrived but were unable to extinguish the blaze until power was shut off due to the high voltage, Szymanski said. The power eventually was shut off and the fire was put out by 8:15 a.m.

Fire officials also discovered a gas leak near the explosion at Coolidge Avenue and First Street coming from beneath the street. Southwest Gas turned the gas off in that vicinity as well, and the gas leak was stopped by 8:45 a.m.

Szymanski said officials are investigating whether the gas leak, explosion and Opportunity Village fire are related. "There is no indication at this time that any of the three incidents are connected," Szymanski said in a statement Monday morning.

NV Energy crews said they're working with Las Vegas Fire and Rescue investigators to determine the cause of the substation's equipment explosion.

Fire officials said the earlier explosion appears accidental in nature, but it will be at least four days before tests are completed to determine the cause.

Main Street, First Street and Commerce Street between Bonneville Avenue and Charleston Boulevard were closed to traffic. About 25 people were evacuated from apartments near the gas leak.

The Las Vegas Building and Safety Department checked nearby buildings for damage.

Near the corner of First and Coolidge, shards of glass from broken windows littered the sidewalk a block away from the site of the explosion.

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