Tragedy averted on the Strip

It was a chilling sight, one that long-time Las Vegans hoped they'd never see again. Flames dancing from a Strip hotel, smoke billowing from the rooftop.

For more than an hour late Friday morning, firefighters attacked a major blaze at the top of the 32-story Monte Carlo. TV news helicopters hovering near the scene captured debris raining to the ground as the conflagration developed.

Fire crews could be seen hanging out top-floor windows to fight the fire. A handful of other firefighters carefully wandered around the roof, pumping water onto the flames.

Evacuated guests stood outside -- some with their luggage -- watching intently from the sidewalk.

By a bit after noon, the fire was largely extinguished. Amazingly, nobody was seriously injured.

The incident triggered memories of the 1980 MGM Grand fire on the Strip that killed 87 people. That blaze started on the ground floor and quickly spread upward. In contrast, Friday's fire began at the top of the building and spread only on the exterior.

In the wake of the MGM tragedy, Clark County enacted some of the toughest fire safety measures in the country. The extent to which those standards and codes played a role in saving lives and keeping damage to a minimum on Friday hasn't been determined. But it's hard to imagine this incident wouldn't have been much worse without them.

Investigators will eventually determine what triggered the Monte Carlo fire. Speculation centered on welders working on the roof.

In the meantime, this is a stark reminder of why this resort city must continue to put a heavy emphasis on fire safety -- and why code violations such as those recently revealed at two Harrah's properties must not be tolerated under any circumstances.