Las Vegas Sun

August 28, 2014

Fire? So What, They Said

There was a different kind of panic at the Sahara Hotel fire yesterday, the kind that sets in when you're about to leave behind a nickel.

A couple from Albuquerque, N.M., who didn't want to be named said, "We'll have to swear on the Bible that what we saw was so when we get home, because nobody will believe it."

They were not guests of the hotel when the fire started yesterday afternoon but had walked up there from a motel down the street. "We did so well here last night we wanted to try it again," they said.

PLAYING SLOTS

They were playing slot machines down near the bar several feet away from the main exits. The man said he saw smoke coming through the ceiling, then a flame and then the water began to drown the crap tables. A casino employee came and asked them to leave the casin.

"I'll have to say this, they were very nice about it," said the woman. "But it was the women. My God they wouldn't move.

"We had to shove our way out," she said.

"There was this old lady who was playing the machine next to mine. She kept right on pulling the handle. I said, 'Come on lady, let me help you.' She just stared at me. I took hold of her arm for a second and then we started pushing our way through the crowd. About 20 feet away I looked back and that little lady had gone back there and was playing my machine and hers. I had been $4 ahead."

EIGHT MINUTES

They estimated it took them a full eight minutes to get out of the casino and all the while casino employees were politely but firmly asking people to leave.

"The keno players, some of them wre still standing there checking off their numbers as we left," the man said. "That fire just shot through the ceiling.

Both of the Albuquerque visitors used to live in Connecticut where hew as a member of the auxiliary police. He said, "I know fires and when I see smoke I get out." Said she, "We remember that big circus fire."

Nip Lawson had a "full game" going at the big wheel, he said. "The crowd was very orderly and cooperative." When asked when he knew there was a fire in progress Lawson replied, "When the water fell down."

MAID LEAVES

Fannie M. Guyse was working as a maid in the powder room.

"One of the engineers came by sand said, "You there, Fannie? You better come out," she recalled.

"He asked me if I got my purse and I says I think more of my life than I do my purse. BUt now I'm worried. I was going to pay my bills tonight and my purse is in there with all my money in it."

Fannie said she had five customers in her powder room. There was no stalling there.

"When he says fire we all scrambled out. Tips? No. They've been kind of slow lately anyway. I didn't miss any. What I'm really worried about are my ID's. You can make money anytime."

TAKES REFUGE

Florence Grenrock, a resident of Las Vegas, was following a common afternoon pursuit for her. She was playing pan. When the fire started she took refuge with several hundred other hotel guests and employees out in the back parking lot.

"The water started coming down on the crap tables," Mrs. Grenrock told her husband excitedly. He works several blocks down Sahara Avenue for an insurance firm, and when he saw smoke he hurried up the street to check on his wife.

"They kept on playing for awhile but when the water began to pour all over they started to leave," Mrs. Grenrock said. "There were seven of us in the pan room at six tables. They, I don't know who, started coming in and telling us to get out. A few of us did."

WANTED TO STAY

A cocktail waitress who was strutting around the parking lot and still carrying a tray in stately fashion gave her name as Val. Asked if her bar customers were panicked said, "Are you kidding? They didn't want to leave. You couldn't drag them away."

Truman Stuard, who operates a men's shop in the hotel that escaped damage, said that when the fire started he was talking to A. A. McCollum, president of the Sahara-Nevada Corp. which owns the hotel, when "a drunk came in and yelled . 'There's a fire, there's a fire. Nobody paid attention. Everybody laughed, including McCollum."

James English, a member of the Sahara convention hall crew, was seated with about 50 other employees in a dining room off the casino, and smoke started to pour in. He left his lunch behind, but some employees finished.

SAW SMOKE

Phillip Coleman, who works in the main kitchen of the huge hotel, said he also was alerted by smoke.

"When I saw the rest of them going I didn't wit around to find out what," he said. "I started going myself."

Sheriff Ralph Lamb said he believed the fire would go down in the books as even bigger than the El Rancho Vegas measured by financial loss.

"I was in Boulder City talking to the police chief when Capt. Ray Gubser called," Lamb said. "As soon as I got to the top of the hill I could see smoke. This is probably the biggest hotel fire we've ever had in Las Vegas."

Publicity chief John Romero -who just went through another trial of fire, the Beatles concert- said, "We came back from lunch. As soon as we walked in our office we noticed a light smoke. We called the fire department immediately and then tried to find out what had happened. We then saw that it was a serious fire and ordered an evacuation."

MOVE TABLES

"It didn't look dangerous," Wayne Puckett, a dealer, said.

"The water started streaming into the casino. Then it started to get smokey, and the people were ordered to leave. They also started to move the tables (out from under the water sprinklers). Several didn't want to quit playing. I looked over and saw Sammy at the roulette wheel and he had two people there still playing. I said, 'What are you gonna do?' He said 'I don't know. They just don't want to quit.'"

The deck around the swimming pool was crowded with sun worshippers and the snack bar was doing a brisk business from the people who had inhaled smoke inside the building. Other restaurants of the hotel were evacuated and closed and maintenance men were seen climbing around the roofs and apparently inspecting the grease traps. But the pool people apparently thought it was plenty hot right where they were. They barely took time to roll over.

Some of the shrubbery at the back of the hotel that was mangled in the heat generated by the departure of the Beatles through the rear service entrance on Friday finally gave up yesterday. A fire truck rolled over it in order to get to the back of the coffee shop.

Said Don Caldwell, the day slot manager, "When the evacuation was ordered there was still a light flashing for an $8 jackpot. That was the first time I've ever seen anybody leave a pot."

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