MeetingNews Cover Story: Inferno Chases Attendees From Monte Carlo Resort

On Jan. 25, the 3,213-room Monte Carlo Resort & Casino caught fire on its facade from floors 27 to 32, sending one group that was on property scrambling from its meeting room and shutting down part of the Strip.

According to Monte Carlo's website, all individual and group/meeting reservations through Feb. 6 were to have been honored at parent firm MGMMirage's other nine Las Vegas properties. The burned facade along Monte Carlo's roof must be removed or secured before the property can reopen, the Clark County chief building inspector said on Jan. 26.

The resort's facade is made of a foam material that "melted off the side of the building and started a few fires below," according to Clark County Fire Chief Steve Smith. The foam is highly flammable, requiring an outer coating such as stucco to prevent it from burning. Several other resorts in Las Vegas use sheets or blocks of the dense foam to give the appearance of heavier stone and brick.

Thirteen people were treated for smoke inhalation, but the fire caused no major injuries. Gordon Absher, an MGM Mirage spokesman, said Monte Carlo employees went door-to-door evacuating guests. One guest who was in a 30th-floor guest room told a Las Vegas newspaper he heard housekeepers banging on doors and yelling, "Fire, get out!"

But Michelle Gothan, who planned a 40-person meeting at the resort for Early Warning, a Scottsdale-based fraud-management firm, felt there was too much delay in notifying and evacuating her group from the hotel's meeting space.

Gothan, the firm's senior marketing coordinator who was not on site, gave the account relayed to her by attendees: "The alarm went off briefly, then shut off, and then an announcement said, 'We are investigating the cause of the alarm. We will give you more information as soon as we get it.' Nobody in the meeting room was worried and went back to the agenda. About 10 minutes later, they heard a woman shriek, 'Oh my God!' right outside their meeting room-which stopped the meeting cold.

A hotel staffer came into the room right then and said, 'OK, you need to evacuate. Follow me.' Only then did the alarm go off again."

According to Gothan, the attendees were escorted for a few minutes to a back entrance of the hotel in order to avoid the main entrance, where chunks of melted and burning foam were falling to the ground. Once outside, the group saw that firefighters were already working on the fire.

Gothan said, "My people feel they were not told to leave quickly enough, "though she acknowledged that her group was meeting on a low floor and that other areas of the property were in more immediate danger. But Gothan said the contingency measures taken by MGM Mirage to direct evacuated Monte Carlo guests were excellent. "They made announcements, via bullhorn, in the Monte Carlo parking lot saying that guests should walk to the MGM Grand Garden Arena for more instructions," she said. "There was food and drink at the arena, and lots of staff helped out."

Many Monte Carlo guests were booked into the MGM Grand and New York - New York resorts, while Gothan's attendees went to the Bellagio. Most Monte Carlo guests were able to go back into the resort on Jan. 26 to collect their belongings.

Gothan's attendees left behind not only their session materials but also some of their luggage. Gothan noted, "Our VP had to jump through hoops to get clearance to go back into the meeting area. But once he got to the room, he was told that another person had already gone in and taken everything. We didn't find out for several hours that it was one of our own people."

One thing Gothan learned from the experience was this: "We need to have everyone's cell phone numbers on a master list before the meeting begins, and plan out a phone chain. It took us an hour after the evacuation to account for everyone, which made us pretty anxious."

Originally published February 11, 2008