LAS VEGAS &

Bill Bontrager was playing the slot machines Friday at the Monte Carlo hotel-casino when he saw firefighters rushing by.




"'Turn and go the other way. Get out,'" they told the 63-year-old man from Des Moines, Iowa. He did &

after finishing a few bets.




A fire on the roof of the 32-story hotel-casino sent flaming debris raining down and charred part of the "Monte Carlo" sign. Authorities said 17 people suffered minor injuries in the blaze, which firefighters got under control in about an hour.




Guests, employees and gamblers evacuated the building &

some faster than others.




No-limit poker player George Bals was among those who figured they were just hearing a false fire alarm.




"They were still dealing and then they flipped the TVs on live," the 54-year-old Las Vegas resident said. After seeing news coverage of the fire he scooped his chips off the table, put them in his pocket and headed for the exit.




There was a greater sense of urgency on the 30th floor, where Larry Wappel and his brother heard housekeeping staff banging on doors and yelling "Fire, get out!"




Wappel, 25, of San Pierre, Ind., said it took about 10 minutes to walk single-file down the stairs to get to ground level.




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




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.




"It could have been very serious," Clark County Fire Chief Steve Smith said. "Due to the aggressive firefighting tactics of our personnel we were able to contain it."




Strict fire codes were adopted for Las Vegas resorts since a 1980 fire killed 87 people down the street from the Monte Carlo at the old MGM Grand hotel, now the Bally's Las Vegas.




Smith said it was too early to assess damage or say what caused Friday's 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," Smith said.




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




Smith called the Monte Carlo blaze an exterior fire, which was largely confined to the rooftop and the facade of the upper floors. The facade was made of a foam material that "melted off the side of the building and started a few fires below," Smith said.




Employees went door-to-door evacuating the hotel, said Gordon Absher, a spokesman for the resort's owner, MGM Mirage Inc. The fire chief said no one had to be rescued.




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," said Badilla, who said she was in the buffet on the main casino level when fire alarms sounded.




Guests were taken to the MGM Grand Garden Arena, and employees were evacuated to the adjacent New York-New York hotel, Absher said. Hotel officials said guests would be moved to other MGM Mirage hotels in Las Vegas. They estimated the hotel, with 3,002 guest rooms and 211 suites, was almost full and about 900 workers were on duty when the fire began.




Huge crowds formed to watch the fire, and traffic on the Las Vegas Strip was gridlocked as streets were blocked off around the hotel.




The nearby resorts Bellagio and New York-New York were not evacuated.




The Monte Carlo opened in June 1996 on Las Vegas Boulevard near Tropicana Avenue.




The casino-hotel modeled after the Place du Casino in Monte Carlo, Monaco, was a joint venture between Steve Wynn's Mirage Resorts and Circus Circus Enterprises.




The 1980 MGM Grand fire was the deadliest in state history. That hotel was rebuilt and sold in 1985 and renamed Bally's. It is now owned by Harrah's Entertainment Inc.




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Associated Press Writers Kathleen Hennessey, Ryan Nakashima and Ken Ritter contributed to this report.




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On the Net:




http:www.montecarlo.com/