A wind-whipped three-alarm blaze swept through a Las Vegas apartment complex early Wednesday, leaving at least 14 families displaced and two people injured, authorities said.
"I don't know how much worse it can get, honestly," said Patricia Shaw, 37, a single mother who awaited word at a nearby shopping mall about whether the two-bedroom apartment she shared with her 12-year-old daughter had been spared.
Shaw was summoned home from work by a neighbor whose apartment was destroyed _ including gifts Shaw said she stashed there for her daughter.
"I need food, and my daughter doesn't have a Christmas," Shaw said.
Clark County fire spokesman Scott Allison said two women were taken to University Medical Center with facial burns, singed hair and smoke inhalation after they were rescued from an apartment where investigators believe the blaze started about 6:15 a.m.
The women, ages 66 and 49, were in fair condition in the UMC burn unit, hospital spokeswoman Danita Cohen said.
About 80 firefighters battled flames that lit up the predawn sky as 28 apartments in three large buildings were destroyed, Allison said. He said management provided fire officials with a tally of 14 families affected.
Allison said it could take several days to pinpoint the fire's cause.
"We haven't been inside yet," he said nine hours after the fire was reported. "Crews are still looking for hot spots. We're waiting until it's safe to get in to begin the investigation."
Allison said firefighters kicked in doors to evacuate residents as flames, fanned by strong winds, spread from one roof to the next in two- and three-story buildings set no more than 20 feet apart less than two miles east of the Strip.
Three multiunit buildings were destroyed, Allison said, adding that firefighters initially reported four buildings were affected due to the size of one building.
The roof of at least one building collapsed, exposing charred beams poking skyward amid the smoldering ruins.
Allison said as many as 100 residents may have been evacuated, including more than 50 who, like Shaw, sought refuge at The Boulevard Mall. With temperatures in the 40s, authorities also brought a transit bus to the site to provide temporary shelter.
"Winds this morning didn't help," Allison said at the sprawling complex of buildings at the Rainwalk complex in a middle-class neighborhood just west of the shopping center.
Dramatic aerial video from television news stations showed flames spreading through the densely built block while winds blew streams of water from fire hoses back toward firefighters.
The National Weather Service reported gusts of 40 mph at 6 a.m., and steady winds of up to 25 mph while firefighters worked to get the fire under control.
The blaze was the largest of three predawn fires in and around the city.
Two people were burned in a fire that gutted a home just before 5 a.m. in a neighborhood east of downtown, Las Vegas fire spokesman Tim Szymanski said.
Whipping winds contributed to that fire, which the two men tried to smother with a blanket before it spread from a rear patio into the house, Szymanski said.
Cohen said a 72-year-old man was hospitalized at UMC in critical condition, and a 49-year-old was hospitalized in fair condition.
A separate two-alarm blaze in an apartment building just west of downtown damaged four apartments in a two-story building and displaced 22 people, Szymanski said. No injuries were reported.
Investigators think that fire started in a heating unit in the complex near Martin Luther King Boulevard and the U.S. 95 freeway, Szymanski said.
Associated Press staff writer Oskar Garcia contributed to this report.