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Unclear when fire-damaged Monte Carlo can be reopened

28 January 2008

Las Vegas Sun

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- It's unclear when the Monte Carlo will reopen after a fire burned for an hour today atop the casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

"I can tell you that it won't be tomorrow," said Ron Lynn, the chief building inspector for Clark County.

The first alarm came at 11 a.m. as smoke rolled off the top of the building and flames licked the Monte Carlo sign. Smoke and fire poured from windows four floors from the top of the 32-story building.

Burning foam and a stiff breeze blowing smoke back into the building made it difficult to fight the fast-moving fire, said Capt. Warren Whitney of the Clark County Fire Department. Some firefighters had to hang out of windows to pour water on the fire above them.

It's an unusual way to fight a fire," Whitney said.

The 3,002-room hotel — the 13th largest in Las Vegas — was almost full and almost 1,000 workers were on during that shift. The hotel was evacuated as 200 security guards and hotel engineers knocked on every door and went into rooms if they didn't get a response, according to Gordon Absher, spokesman for MGM Mirage, which owns the Monte Carlo.

Five guests and eight hotel workers were treated for smoke inhalation.

County Fire Chief Steve Smith said 120 firefighters used 35 pieces of apparatus to fight the blaze. The last smoke was seen coming from the hotel at 12:07 p.m.

Monte Carlo guests were directed to several nearby hotels. Several hundred Monte Carlo employees were fed at the MGM Grand Arena.

But at nearby casinos, patrons drank pina coladas and watched the blaze on the TV.

Metro Police closed Las Vegas Boulevard South and Frank Sinatra Drive for several hours. The only street that remained closed this evening was Monte Carlo Drive.

Monte Carlo Quick Facts

Rooms: 3,002 (13th largest in Las Vegas)

Casino sq. footage: 102,197 (18th largest in Las Vegas)

Slot machines: 1,650

Tables: 75

Poker tables: 15

Sports book sq. footage: 5,628

Convention square footage: 23,000

Parent company: MGM MIrage

Year opened: 1996

Branded restaurants: Diablo's Cantina, Andre's French Restaurant, Monte Carlo Brew Pub, Dragon Noodle, Market City Caffe

Top exec: Anton Nikodemus, president

Headliner: Magician Lance Burton

Some hotel guests complained that the fire alarm didn't go off until they already had seen the fire on television. The delay may have resulted because the fire apparently started outside on the roof and the smoke wasn't detected inside for a time, officials said.

Smoke triggers alarms only on the floor where it's detected and the floors immediately above and immediately below. That's why people in other parts of the hotel saw the fire on TV before they heard an alarm go off, Absher said.

When Anton Nikodemus, the president of the Monte Carlo, saw the fire on the roof from one of the towers, he ordered an immediate evacuation of the hotel, and had the alarms set off manually throughout the entire hotel, Absher said.

At a news conference this afternoon, Fire Chief Steve Smith praised the response: "There was no panic. I don't want to say it was normal operation, but this is what we train for. We practice highrise tactics."

He said they haven't determined how the fire started: "The investigation has not been completed, so nothing has been ruled out. We will first determine where the fire started, and then what caused it."

Both Whitney and Lynn said the fire didn't spread because all the safety systems worked.Smith said the 1980 fire at the MGM Grand changed the safety standards along the Strip. "We have the best fire safety systems in the world in the resort corridor of Las Vegas."

MGM Mirage officials said the hotel would reopen tonight so guests could retrieve luggage left behind during the evacuation. Guests who were scheduled to stay at the Monte Carlo this weekend could stay at sister hotels, such as the MGM Grand, Mandalay Bary, Mirage and Treasure Island.

There was minimal damage, mostly from water, Lynn said.

The Monte Carlo was built in 1994 and was designed to meet the 1991 building codes, which allowed more foam than is permitted now. When the upper floors are rebuilt, they will have to meet today's standards, Lynn said.

His crew must sign off on the building's structural integrity before the hotel can reopen. Lynn said it's possible the casino may reopen before the rooms but he gave no timetable.

While the property is closed for business, the Monte Carlo could lose $1.1 million in revenue per day, according to an estimate by Sun business columnist Jeff Simpson.

Magician Lance Burton canceled this evening's performance at the Monte Carlo. Burton's gear wasn't harmed by the fire.

The fire caused traffic jams on the Strip and nearby I-15, according to Sun reporter Mike Trask, who was on the scene.

The Clark County Fire Department posted a "fire in building" bulletin just before 11 this morning for 3770 S. Las Vegas Blvd. on the department's emergency log. TV stations were already dispatched to the scene, with helicopters hovering, capturing smoke pouring from the upper floors. Fire officials said the 'copters were causing a downdraft and forced them away from the burning building.

— Contributors to this story included Sun staffers Abigail Goldman, Brian Eckhouse, Mary Manning, Mike Trask, Jeff Simpson, Rick Velotta, Jerry Fink, Mark Whittington, Barry Horstman and Dave Toplikar.

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