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Arson fire forces evacuation at Golden Nugget in Las Vegas

By Ashley Powers, Los Angeles Times –

LAS VEGAS — Early Thursday, while much of the downtown casino district was asleep, Las Vegas firefighters rushed to the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino, where a blaze had set off alarms and filled the 22nd floor with smoke.

In Room 22125, which is used for storage, firefighters found charred bags of comforters and pillows — an automatic sprinkler had snuffed out the flames before they spread.

Then they heard a moan.

What the firefighters discovered raised all sorts of questions: an unconscious man, sprawled on the floor near a window. “He was limp, barely hanging on,” said Timothy Szymanski, a Las Vegas Fire & Rescue spokesman.

Investigators determined that the fire, which caused about $1,000 in damage, was intentionally set, though the man’s role in it — if any — was unclear. He was transported to a local hospital and, as of Thursday afternoon, authorities had not been able to interview him, Szymanski told the Los Angeles Times.

The man was a guest at the 2,300-room hotel, which has four towers and a pool complex with a giant shark tank. The fire ignited on a floor of unfurnished rooms in the Rush Tower. They are accessible only by a service elevator, hotel spokeswoman Amy Chasey said in an interview.

The man had suffered smoke inhalation but no burns, Szymanski said. Authorities did not release his identity.

About 60 people were evacuated from the 25-story tower, and no other injuries were reported. About an hour after the 8:26 a.m. blaze, they were allowed to return to their rooms. Meanwhile, gamblers continued to play slot machines.

The fire was this year’s second at the Golden Nugget, which anchors the Fremont Street casino district downtown. In January, the hotel briefly evacuated hundreds of people when a banquet-area dishwashing unit ignited.

Hotels in the tourist-reliant region operate under strict fire codes, the result of a pair of deadly fires in the early 1980s.

At the MGM Grand hotel, which is now Bally’s, 87 people were killed and hundreds more injured in November 1980 in one of the nation’s worst hotel fires. Had hotel officials installed sprinklers in the restaurant and casino during construction, the fire might have quickly fizzled, investigators concluded.

A few months later, an arsonist set the Las Vegas Hilton ablaze, killing eight people and injuring 200.

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