Inspectors Checking Las Vegas Strip Casino Closed by Facade Blaze

By: By KATHLEEN HENNESSEY
By: By KATHLEEN HENNESSEY

The fire-damaged Monte Carlo hotel-casino remained closed to guests Saturday while inspectors checked the 32-story building for damage following a three-alarm blaze that blackened the facade of the top floors.

Ron Lynn, chief of the county Building Department, said he did not know when he would permit the 3,000-room hotel to reopen, and
added that the casino might reopen first.

"It's a little soon to tell," Lynn told The Associated Press moments before he and a team of six inspectors entered the building Saturday morning. "We haven't completed the testing today. But there is no damage to the casino area."

Most guests were allowed inside overnight, with security escorts, to retrieve items left when they fled the fire on Friday, officials said.

Casino owner MGM Mirage Inc. found rooms for displaced guests at
its other hotel-casinos.

"We've cleared about 2,000 rooms," company spokesman Gordon
Absher said. "That leaves only about 250 rooms on those floors where guests have yet to claim their personal belongings."

Only hotel security and county inspectors were being allowed into rooms above the 26th floor, he said.

The Las Vegas Strip casino was near capacity Friday when passing
motorists reported seeing flames on the roof.

Gamblers fled the casino floor as flames spread horizontally across the roof line and firefighters rushed up flights of stairs.

No one was seriously injured.

An ambulance company spokeswoman said 17 people were taken to
area hospitals with minor injuries, mostly from inhaling smoke or from fleeing the building. None of the 120 firefighters who fought the blaze was hurt. The blaze was contained within an hour.

The spectacle brought to mind the state's deadliest fire. In 1980, 87 people were killed in a fire at the old MGM Grand just down the street from the Monte Carlo.

Strict fire codes, including mandatory fire sprinklers, have since been adopted for the casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.

Fire Chief Steve Smith credited firefighters, not the sprinkler system for quickly containing Friday's fire.

He called it an exterior fire that consumed a foam-like building material. He said it was best fought from the interior. Firefighters entered top-floor rooms, broke windows and leaned out with hoses to aim water at the flames.

"It's very precarious up there," Smith said. "They did expose themselves to some extreme danger. They could have fallen out."

Smith said it was too early to assess damage or say what caused
the fire, which began just before 11 a.m. There was no immediate
indication of criminal activity or arson, but "nothing is ruled out at this time," he said.

Officials were told welders were working on the roof of the building before the fire, Clark County spokesman Erik Pappa said.

Lynn said five floors were affected by the fire, mostly from water damage, but only a few rooms had significant damage from fire and water.

Officials went door-to-door evacuating the hotel, Absher said.

Larry Wappel, 25, said he and his brother were in a room on the 30th floor when they heard housekeeping staff banging on doors and
yelling "Fire, get out!" He said it took about 10 minutes to walk single-file down the stairs.

"There were a couple of ladies crying, but it was pretty calm," he said.

Another guest, Renza Badilla, 45, said she exited through the hotel kitchen to find burning debris and embers falling from the roof.

"I think people were shocked when they saw the smoke," she said.

Guests were taken to the MGM Grand Garden Arena and were being
moved to other MGM Mirage hotels in Las Vegas, Absher said. Late
Friday, some guests were escorted to their hotel rooms to retrieve their belongings, he said. The top six floors remained closed to guests.

Lynn said it's possible the casino would reopen ahead of the hotel but he said that would not happen immediately.

"We're going to recommission as if it would be a new building," he said.

An estimated 900 hotel workers on duty when the fire began were
evacuated to the adjacent New York-New York hotel.

Huge crowds formed to watch the fire, and traffic on the Las Vegas Strip was gridlocked as streets were blocked off around the hotel. Nearby resorts were not evacuated.

The Monte Carlo Resort & Casino has 3,002 guest rooms and 211 suites. The resort, on Las Vegas Boulevard near Tropicana Avenue,
opened in June 1996 and is modeled after the Place du Casino in Monte Carlo, Monaco.
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Associated Press Writers Howie Rumberg, Ryan Nakashima and Ken
Ritter contributed to this report.
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On the Net:
http://www.montecarlo.com/

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-01-26-08 1232EST


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