LAS VEGAS — A tourist wondered at first if the flames he saw whipping across the roof of a Bellagio resort shopping complex were part of the iconic dancing fountain show on the Las Vegas Strip.
Sean Kim told The Associated Press on Friday that he realized something was wrong when plastic-smelling smoke began billowing and police rushed to evacuate shop employees. Fire engines arrived and melting building material began dripping fireballs toward the fountain lake, he said.
“It was kinda unreal,” said Kim, who recorded cellphone video of the Thursday night fire. “At first I thought it was a pyrotechnics. We thought it was part of the show. Then we thought, ‘Huh. That doesn’t look right.’”
The 11 p.m. fountain show went on as scheduled, playing the “Pink Panther Theme” while a crowd of hundreds that had gathered for the top-of-the-hour water attraction doubled to watch firefighters work.
Gusty winds fanned the blaze, forcing employees out of tony stores such as Tiffany &Co. and Chanel. Pedestrian bridges to Bally’s and Caesars Palace closed, and busy Las Vegas Boulevard was shut down.
“The sidewalk was just packed with spectators,” said Kim, 30, of Los Angeles. “The smoke got bad, and we started leaving. It smelled like plastic burning.”
No one was injured, and damage was limited to the roof of the Via Bellagio shops. Assistant Clark County Fire Chief Larry Haydu said foam building material fueled the flames, which did not reach inside the mall.
It took 19 minutes to quell the blaze, which caused at least $400,000 in damage, Deputy Clark County Fire Chief Jeff Buchanan said. Officials suspect an exterior electrical or lighting malfunction sparked it, Buchanan said, but it could take a couple of weeks to complete the investigation.
County spokesman Erik Pappa said officials found no building code violations at the Bellagio.
Operations were not interrupted in the casino or the 36-story hotel with nearly 4,000 rooms, said Yvette Monet, spokeswoman for owner MGM Resorts International. She said the shops were either closed or closing at the time.
Buchanan said 77 firefighters attacked the fire from the ground first and then used a ladder that put them closer to the roof of the complex, which also features celebrity restaurants such as Todd English’s Olives and Lago by Julian Serrano.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the building material was the same type that burned in January 2008 atop the Monte Carlo hotel-casino a few blocks away, Haydu said.
That fire was sparked by welders on the roof. It forced the evacuation of 6,000 guests and employees and caused more than $100 million in damage and lost business at the 3,000-room resort.
Investigators found an improper type of resin had been used in two decorative elements near the top of the 32-story hotel, which helped the fire rip through the roof and facade.