Spectators mingled with evacuees as the primal sight of flames and smoke out-stripped the Strip itself. For some, the fire evoked images from deadly casino fires in 1980 and 1981. Others looked up and saw in the flames their own dumb luck, good or bad.
ECHOES OF MGM
The Monte Carlo fire brought back a lot of memories for 75-year-old Don Feldman. When he flipped on the television and saw the flames, his first thought was "been there, done that."
Feldman was working as a baker at the MGM Grand when fire broke out there on Nov. 21, 1980. He and a co-worker survived the inferno, which killed 87 people, by hiding in a walk-in refrigerator.
When they emerged from the building after 90 minutes in the cooler, volunteers wrapped them in blankets to warm them up.
Feldman heard about the Monte Carlo fire from his daughter, who works for a television network in Los Angeles. He could tell right away that this fire would not be as bad as the one in 1980 "because it was on the roof" and everyone was evacuated.
When the MGM fire broke out and staff started to flee the building, Feldman stayed behind because he had "an oven full of bread."
Before he took refuge in the cooler, he nearly tripped over the body of a co-worker, dead from smoke inhalation.
Watching Friday's fire stirred all that up again, though it's never far from Feldman's mind.
"I think about it every so often," he said. "Every year on Nov. 21, that's what I think about."
LAUNDRY, NO ROOM
When the blaze broke out, Queensland, Australia, resident Colwyn Baulton and daughter Cheyennyn were in their room on the 24th floor, packing up dirty clothes for a trip to the laundry.
"My daughter saw the fire brigade and all that turn up. We didn't hear any alarm, but it might have happened when we were in the shower," Baulton said. "No one told us to get out, but we were ready to go."
After a few minutes, a voice on the public address system directed them to stay where they were.
"The alarm was saying, 'The source is being identified, and we'll let you know,' so still I didn't hear anyone say get out," Baulton said. "Then I saw a man in the hallway, and he said, 'Yes, you've got to go. You've got to go.' So we went."
After climbing 24 flights of stairs, they found themselves sitting on a concrete planter across the street with their laundry, passports and plane tickets for an early morning flight to New York.
Baulton wasn't quite sure what to do next.
"This is just dirty laundry," she said. "I suppose if I hurry up and wash it, I'll be all right."
ALMOST A WIENER ROAST
One of the smallest fire evacuees was a dachshund named Hollie.
Hollie's owners, Missouri residents Gene and Kay Irvin, are staying at La Quinta Inn, but they drove over to the Monte Carlo Friday morning to gamble. Hollie came along for the ride and hung out in the couple's SUV while they played video poker inside.
When the fire broke out, the Irvins' SUV was parked right below the conflagration.
"The car was right there, and embers were falling around it," Gene Irvin said.
When he went to retrieve Hollie, firefighters stopped him. So Irvin persuaded rescue personnel to get the dog for him.
"I gave one of the firemen my key," Irvin said. "All he wanted to know was, is she friendly? He got her and brought her to us, and she was shaking like a leaf."
Hollie had recovered enough by Friday afternoon to go begging for potato chips inside the MGM Grand Garden arena, where evacuees were taken.
For Lisa Niswender of Fort Collins, Colo., Las Vegas has become synonymous with disaster.
Niswender, staying at the Monte Carlo this week with relatives for a "girls' weekend," is on her second trip to Las Vegas. Her first? Well, that coincided with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"I think I'm the most unlucky person," Niswender said, laughing. "I lost $5, and then I won it back, and then we found out our hotel was on fire. It's been a disaster every time I've come here."
OUT OF LUCK
Steven Siegel of Maryland couldn't dodge hotel fires forever. Siegel and his wife, Randie, stayed at the former MGM Grand, now Bally's, in 1980 after their wedding. They missed that fire by two weeks. Steven Siegel returned to Las Vegas in 1981 and stayed at the Las Vegas Hilton just a month before a fire there killed eight people and injured more than 200.
"I missed those two but got this one," Siegel said. "Sooner or later, they were gonna get me. They just bided their time."
BLACKENED TIE AFFAIR?
Monte Carlo guests Denison Smith and Karen Falk of Boise, Idaho, here for the Miss America Pageant, calmly sat at Smith and Wollensky's across from the closed resort eating grilled Alaskan Halibut and sipping mimosas for lunch, not worried about what they had to wear to the pageant's formal Evening of Dreams Gala on Friday at Planet Hollywood. NEXT PAGE
"His tuxedo is sitting in the room, and my gown is hanging there, but life goes on," said Falk, a former Miss Idaho Pageant official. "It's supposed to be a black-tie event, but we'll just wear what we have, which might be jeans and a T-shirt."
THE LATEST HOT SPOT
A handful of spectators stood on the sidewalks near Interstate 15 and stared in awe, snapping away with digital cameras, cell phones and video cameras.
Two men in their 20s, who said they were from Italy, took in the fire stopped at a red light in a Ford Mustang convertible. One snapped away with his long-lens camera and yelled, "I get good pictures."
The other man stomped on the gas pedal and let out a shout as they raced away from the Strip on Tropicana Avenue: "Party!"
While she watched the fire from a store across the street, Arlene Bustamante overheard a conversation about a Monte Carlo guest.
"There was a lady who said her father was in the penthouse on the 32nd floor and that she called him and told him to get up because there was a fire in the hotel," Bustamante said. The man was 70 and had just gone to bed after being up all night. "The lady said, 'He said he heard a lot of bells going off, but he thought somebody had won a jackpot.' "
Monte Carlo guest Leon Padilla was asleep when the fire broke out. He had checked into room 4221 on Thursday and spent the night out on the town, partying until 6 a.m. Friday. The Catalina Island, Calif., landscaper comes to Las Vegas on occasion.
He heard the alarm and later an announcement reassuring guests the hotel was checking things out.
"I thought it was just maintenance," he said. "I went out into the hallway and didn't see anybody."
So, he went back inside his room, where a look out his window didn't show anything amiss, either.
Then another, more ominous announcement came.
"When they told us, 'You need to get out,' that's when I got scared. By the time I went out, I saw one or two other people in the stairwell," Padilla said. "When I got outside, I saw a whole lot of people standing behind the police line, looking up."
Joe Alcoser is a construction worker who came to town two months ago. He was across the street Friday, waiting to get hired at City Center, when the first wisps of smoke caught his eye.
"At first, I thought they were clearing the furnaces," he said. "Then it got dark. To me, it looked like trouble."
Alcoser has narrowly avoided trouble before. He was a guest at the MGM Grand when that hotel burned in 1980, killing 87 people.
Lucky for him, he checked out before the fire to catch an early flight back to California.
"When I landed in San Diego, the story was already on the news about the fire."
Whenever he checks into a hotel, he always asks for a room on the first floor, one near the exit. "I work in construction and I know how buildings are built."
NO ALARM NECESSARY
C.J. Connors from Tulsa, Okla., was staying at the Monte Carlo for the weekend to gamble. He became aware of the fire when he saw flaming debris hit his room window and fall down the side of the building.
"It was pretty crazy to see that," he said.
As he left his room and evacuated the building, people were generally calm, he said.
He "never heard a fire alarm all the way down. I would hope no one died. It wasn't that bad of a fire."
MEAL AND A SHOW
Smith and Wollensky's Manager Tom Crenshaw didn't get to work until noon when all the excitement had started to die down, but he did experience some of the fire's aftereffects.
"We got really busy and had the patio filled up with customers," he said. "In fact, we haven't been this busy for two months."
Review-Journal staffers Henry Brean, Antonio Planas, Jennifer Robison, Jeff Scheid and Scott Spjut, and View staffers Fred Couzens and Jan Hogan contributed.