Las Vegas Sun - History

September 24, 2017

Million Dollar Fire Belts Hotel Sahara

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Guests hang back as firefighters work to put out the blaze at the Sahara hotel in 1964. This fire is a precursor to the devastating MGM Grand fire in 1980.

A fire that started on the roof of the Hotel Sahara's casino early yesterday afternoon sent gamblers out into the street and caused an estimated $1 million in damage before it was stopped.

Damage was the main casino, the hotel's executive offices, coffee shop lounge and showroom. Hundreds were evacuated from these areas, plus more from the new casino addition, which escaped damage.

The hotel portion of the sprawling structure at Sahara Avenue and the Strip was not affected by the fire. Guests of the hotel were not evacuated.

Hotel officials quickly set about repairing the damages with an aim to reopen gambling and entertainment facilities today. The showroom, lounge and casino areas were closed yesterday following the fire.

Stan Irwin, entertainment director for the hotel, said he expected both the showroom and lounge to be in business tonight.

Entertainer Louis Prima saw his show miss its opening night yesterday in the lounge because of the fire. The coffee shop was also expected to reopen today. A poolside coffee shop was kept open all night long while repairs on the main coffe shop were underway.

SMOKE CLAIMS VICTIMS Smoke felled several persons during the fire, including an executive of the hotel. Herb McDonald, Sahara executive vice president, was treated on the scene after being overcome by smoke. A woman employee and several firemen were also smoke victims. Southern Nevada Memorial Hospital said the woman and one fireman were treated and released. While flames and smoke rose on the Sahara Avenue side of the pool, life went on as usual at the swimming pool on the other side of the hotel. Swimmers splashed and floated on their backs while firemen scampered along the roof fighting the flames. The hotel said a central desk in the skyscraper lobby of the hotel complex would be pressed into service as the hotel's main desk while repairs are being made.

STARTED BY SPARK The fire is believed to have started from a spark sent up by welding equipment being used by a work crew on the roof. One member of the crew working on the roof said the fire started while they were completing installation of a roof-mounted air conditioning unit near the front of the main building.

McDonald was stopped by th smoke while he was removing records from the hotel's executive offices beneath the blazing roof. Other employees scooped up trays of chips and money and removed them to protected areas of the casino. The were put under immediate gaurd.

FEAR CASINO ROOF MIGHT FALL During the height of the fire, it was feared that the weight of the water would cause the casino roof to collapse in one piece. But firemen manage to divert most of the water over the side of the building and the roof held.

The fire was stopped before it reached the new casino addition, north of the main casino. The new casino addition in operation for several months, is expected to go back into business today, handling all of the gambling until repairs can be made on the main casino.

Firemen worked for more than an hour to bring the blaze under control. Hundreds lined the streets outside watching the fire, and city police, sheriff's deputies and Nevada highway patrolmen joined forces to break up one traffic jam after another. Smoke from the fire could be seen throughout the city.

Traffic was route down side streets and around the hotel area. The fire broke out shortly after 1 p.m. At 2 p.m., a hotel spokesman used a loudspeaker to tell all casino dealers waitresses and other employees in the damaged areas to go home.

Shortly after that, it was confirmed that electric power to main casino and showroom was out and could not be restored until firemen and hotel employees finished cleaning up. Power to hotel rooms was not cut off.

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