Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

January 30, 2008

Monte Carlo Fire and EIFS

Posted by Hunter

Last week, most TV sets were tuned in to see the facade of a Las Vegas hotel, the Monte Carlo, engulfed in flames. I'm no expert in fire safety but I know what was going through my head, watching in real time: this fire is moving FAST and whatever is on the top of that building looks to be fueling it.

In the hours and days that followed, one term was repeated over and over: EIFS.

Instead of demonizing an easy target, I'm glad that I've had the chance to speak with several folks fluent in EIFS details, including some industry representatives. Keep reading after the jump and I'll share a couple of things I've learned.

What the hell is EIFS you ask?

EIFS stands for Exterior Insulation Finishing System and is a fairly common 'cladding system', at first used mostly on commercial buildings but now also used in single family homes as well.

Some have asked what the fire rating of materials like those that would be on the Monte Carlo would be - the response I've gotten is that the fire rating applies to the entire wall assembly, not just the EIFS portions and that the materials neither add to nor take away from the fire resistance of said assembly. From what I'm told, most commercial building materials have fire ratings of about an hour.

We've heard that Monte Carlo was built under the former set of code guidelines and Clark County officials have even speculated that some *other* buildings might need to be re-clad as a result of this fire's data. I've read that we're talking about maybe half a dozen structures, though they haven't been identified. I could probably guess they include The Mirage, Treasure Island, Excalibur, and perhaps others. If anyone has more information on this, chime in.

Lastly, I asked these EIFS experts to speculate based purely on what they saw on TV. Of course, an official report will have in-depth findings but this is interesting for discussion if nothing else.

It seems that the construction of 3D embellishments that include EIFS materials, common as architectural flair, are very difficult if not impossible to fireproof in the same manner that you would for a simple shaped wall panel. There's an after-market for products that fill this fire-proofing void but it seems that many in the EIFS field don't endorse these techniques. Some of the coatings used to finish these components can be flammable and it is possible we're seeing something along those lines here.

From what I can tell, EIFS is very widely used all over the Western World and I've heard from more than one person that it simply doesn't burn like that in tests - the EIFS folks seem convinced that what was up there was not EIFS in the purest sense. I await the official report.

I'm hoping that those with construction experience and knowledge will chime in here in the comments and help color this info a bit.


Read archived comments (43 so far)
January 31, 2008 12:12 AM Posted by Mike E

Great research and thanks for clearing that up, Hunter.

January 31, 2008 5:13 AM Posted by detroit1051

The RJ has its first story on EIFS:

January 31, 2008 7:35 AM Posted by Mark D

In fire tests of flat EIFS panels up to current codes, heat will melt the EPS styrofoam at a little around 120c/250f. If enough melts it will create a "vent" allowing oxygen inside the lamination, at which point flames will erupt. Look closer at the photos of the Monte Carlo fire. The section of flat panels above the last floor of windows erupted into flames. That said, it seems likely that the fire originally spread because of the volnerabilty of the extra thick variety. A TV-8 film crew found many samples of damaged coatings exposing the raw EPS in that material all over the Monte Carlo structure.

January 31, 2008 9:11 AM Posted by sharky

The world is built with EIFS and we're all going to die. Nothing will save us.

January 31, 2008 9:59 AM Posted by Mark D

Well of course you can't eliminate all risks in life.

Because of the coating material on EIFS, it's not as bad as the wood material used in past centuries which fueled the "great fires" of Chicago and London and other cities. But after those fires it was decided that it was not a good idea to have flammable material on the sides of tall buildings. If the coating material on the EIFS is compromised and exposes the EPS, it is actually more flammable than wood.

Currently it is illegal to use EIFS on the interiors of buildings because it does not meet the fire codes. Duh! The extremely toxic smoke is one of it's most insidious problems.

Hunter, check your "industry" sources, they might have a vested interest in this material. Most of the marketing info I've read on EIFS avoids the subject of fire.

The EIFS manufacturing industry really needs to find a different insulating material to replace the EPS foam.

January 31, 2008 10:05 AM Posted by Hunter

Oh, they certainly have a vested interest in portraying EIFS in the best light.

I'm not qualified myself to say if it is or isn't a problem, just hoping to foster the debate.

January 31, 2008 11:50 AM Posted by steve_c

On the news, they said the Monte Carlo will look somewhat the same after the building is reclad with proper EIFS. Hopefully they will at least get rid of the prison look as well some of those out of place architectual elements near the crown of the building.

I went ahead and made a model of what the new Monte Carlo could look like. I redid all the windows, added some elements while removing others.

I think it gives the building a cleaner and more balanced look. Does look a bit like Venitian or Caesars though.

What do you guys think?

January 31, 2008 1:22 PM Posted by Jeff in OKC

Looks much better, Steve. Would the big window look (Like Bellagio) work, and could you do a model of that? Since I saw something on someone else's site (Vegas today and tomorrow?), I thought the big window look was best. Now, I'm not so sure. Thanks.

January 31, 2008 3:24 PM Posted by detroit1051

Steve_c, MC looks great, much less like a state prison, but it is a lot like Venetian with the vertical appearance. I couldn't find the "big window" look at VT&T. Anyone have a link? Thanks.

January 31, 2008 4:16 PM Posted by steve_c

Heres the link to what Mark talks about on Vegastodayandtomorrow

And another link where he suggests the same treatment for Jockey Club

I have a couple more renders finishing right now.

January 31, 2008 4:19 PM Posted by Hunter

According to Channel 8, Clark County thinks the welders did indeed accidentally light the fire.

January 31, 2008 4:27 PM Posted by steve_c

Thanks for the complements, guys! I think whatever they do with the MC, it and Bellagio need to properly "frame" the CC site. I think bringing the exterior up to par with Bellagio would be the best move. As it stands now, MC looks like the illegitimate child of Circus Circus and Steve Wynn.

Here is a render I did early today, adding a roof similar to Bellagio, with a crown at the center that could contain a multi-level club or restaurant (removing those empty looking arches up there).

It does still look too much like Venetian though.

Another version that is rendering as I type, shows the windows rearranged into the 4-room block. This would require completely moving the windows from the center of the rooms and offset them to work properly. I have also changed the tan roofing that extends from the center crown into a dark red color, but now I am afraid it looks too much like a new tower at Caesars. I may try a blue roof for the next render, or get rid of it completely.

January 31, 2008 4:54 PM Posted by Jeff in OKC

Hunter, no kidding, I think this is the best coverage of these issues anywhere. This is the positive use of the internet at its highest. Thank you for your tireless efforts on this. Does your wife have a really good job?

January 31, 2008 4:55 PM Posted by Hunter

Heh, actually, while she does work very hard at her gig, I'm actually the primary breadwinner at home - I just work 18 hours a day to fit it all in... That's why sometimes, some things take a little longer, like the podcast I haven't yet compiled. Hopefully tonight.

Thanks for the kind words.

January 31, 2008 4:59 PM Posted by tonystall

Mark, as one of Hunter's "informants" I confess I absolutely do have my company's - Dryvit - best interests in mind! If you recall, I fully disclosed that in my former post. I've been happy to pass on factual information to Hunter, and anyone else sincerely interested, if it helps to clarify what EIFS is, what it has been tested for, and more importantly perhaps, what it isn't ... and what it isn't is the dark shapes that adorned the Monte Carlo and burned so well. I too am concerned about the EPS (the correct term for this 'foam', by the way, is "expanded polystyrene") and what it is/was coated with. Properly installed EIFS has a base coat and fiberglass mesh which encapsulates the EPS. The places around the MC where EPS is exposed do not show any evidence of there ever being either base coat OR mesh (as this doesn't just "fall off") so it begs the question ... what are those shapes coated with??? I think the answer lies with the contractors who put the exterior together in the first place. If you (or anyone else here) has more questions about our product, its use, testing, limitations, etc, please feel free to contact me directly. Thanks!

January 31, 2008 5:34 PM Posted by steve_c

Hi all, here is the render I talked about above. The Venetian windows are gone, and are now the 4-room a window configuration. I added the red roof to add some more architectual elements to the roof area, but I am now thinking against it.

I am now toying with adding "balconies" to each of the windows in a similar fashion to Treasure Island. Does anyone else have any ideas?

January 31, 2008 7:31 PM Posted by mike_ch

So, you started with an EIFS-free building, and now you're adding EIFS details? ;D

February 1, 2008 5:00 AM Posted by detroit1051

Neither the contractor nor MGM look good in this.
No hot work permit, no slag mats, procedures not followed by MGM to confirm permits were in place?

February 1, 2008 8:29 AM Posted by Jeff in OKC

Yes, they do look bad. But, "a few weeks to a few months. Depending on backlog"? The welder is caught in a squeeze, no customer wants to wait months for permits. I imagine what happens in most big, supercharged business environments, is that they brow beat the sub contractor into doing the job, and regret it when something goes wrong. Otherwise it's "Permits? We don' need no stinkin' permits". The county must acknowledege that proper copmpliance can only be acheived by approving these permits in hours or days, instead of weeks or months.

February 1, 2008 10:12 AM Posted by Mark D

That does seem like an awful long time to approve a welding permit, But even without the permit the workers should have followed proper safety procedures.

Tony, thanks for participating in the great EIFS debate. The Chief of the Clark County Building Department called the burning stuff "EIFS" in his interview, so that's all we have to go by. Maybe technically the thick, cheaply coated stuff can vaguely be called EIFS, but obviously it's not the improved fire "resistant" stuff with multiple barriers.

How durable are the coatings on newer EIFS? Visitors have reported seeing cracked and chipped samples on Bellagio (at least on the ornamentation, not sure it was seen on the flat panels). I know that when EIFS first entered the market several decades ago there were a lot of problems with water damage from exposure to the weather. That was mostly fixed with drainage systems on the flat panels, but the irregularly shaped stuff still has problems with that apparently. Cracks and chips will expose raw EPS which can ignite if sparked by something. Several people in the press have compared EPS with "gasoline". Someone on a firefighter blog said EPS burns faster than wood.

I read that there is a more fire resistant alternative material that can replace the EPS, it's a type of "mineral wool". Is that too expensive or something?

February 1, 2008 11:31 AM Posted by tonystall

Mark, please email me directly and I'd be happy to send you some documents that may shed light on your questions! (This is an open invitation for any of you!) Thanks,

February 1, 2008 5:48 PM Posted by steve_c

mike_ch- well obviously something will be done with Monte Carlo :), and while honestly I would prefer the thing reclad in glass like City Center, it looks like we'll have updated EIFS on whatever new facade is placed on Monte Carlo.

Here is more or less the last version of this I'll do, unless anyone can offer up any suggestions then I'll go further. Of course it would include all new EIFS material, bringing the structure up to current fire codes.

I have corrected the scale of the windows, it now appears to be a 16 story building instead of a 32 story building. 4 rooms to a window in the main part of the tower, the top floors have a similar window configuration as to what is currently there. I added the red "Bellagio roof" on the top to draw the eye up the building, rather than focus on the windows too much. I could maybe break the windows up a bit more with a band of trim maybe 10 floors (5 windows up) and change the color of the base. As you can see, I never rendered balconies. They just made the building look too cluttered and I was trying to cut down on as much EIFS as possible, without making it look boring.

What do you guys think?

February 1, 2008 5:54 PM Posted by Aaron_B


In a trip report I submitted to the blog last May I posted some pictures of damage to Bellagio�s exterior and decorative balustrades on the 33rd floor of the west wing on the south side. The pictures are here; balustrade , exterior wall decorative detail damage , window ledge damage .

The damage appeared to have most likely been caused by a window-washing rig being blown into the side of the building causing impact damage on the 33rd floor exterior wall and balustrade where it sticks out several feet from the side of the building. As Tony Stall pointed out a proper EIFS application contains a fiberglass mesh between the synthetic stucco exterior coating and the foam backing both of which are visible in the picture I took of the damage to the wall and window ledge at Bellagio. The backing visable in the damage at Bellagio did not appear to be the white EPS foam, but looked more like it was probably Georgia-Pacific DensGlas Gold Sheathing ,which I am familiar with seeing used behind EIFS on building projects in my area on the east coast. The damage to the window ledge looked like it was caused by something being dropped on it by a window washer or someone working on the building�s accent lighting. The damage to the building that I saw did not appear to be due to a problem with the EIFS materials themselves or their installation. The damage to the balustrade appeared to be a combination of the window-washing rig hitting it and years of thermal expansion and contraction on the buildings south facing side. The balustrade did appear to be made of some kind of foam, though to me it did not look like the white EPS foam.

I think it should be noted that the high-rise hotel tower at Beau Rivage in Biloxi, MS has a very similar EIFS exterior to Bellagio and it seemed to do a pretty good job of withstanding Katrina, faring much better than the low-rise portions of the property.

I suspect that Monte Carlo�s EIFS cladding was not installed properly and that corners were likely cut in it�s design and construction contributing to the rapid spread of the fire.

Does anyone know if the darker colored details on Monte Carlo�s fa�ade might have had fiberglass or resin coatings?

February 2, 2008 6:00 AM Posted by detroit1051

Aaron, in 2006, the balustrade on my east-facing Bellagio suite had the same or more deterioration as the south-facing one in your photo. At the time, I didn't think of construction materials, I only thought that MGM Mirage would need to budget some serious funds on building maintenance as all their properties age. The next Conference Call should be scheduled soon, and I'm sure there will be many questions on Monte Carlo, EIFS and maintenance.
By the way, LVS' 4th Quarter Call is scheduled for February 4th at 4:30PM EST. Weidner is always informative.

February 2, 2008 9:01 AM Posted by Mark D

Aaron_B, DensGlass is a type of gypsum board. It's not used as an insulating foam inside an EIFS composite. Panels of EIFS are attached to a layer of gypsum board (GP Densglass), so that's why you see it installed on the sides of buildings before the exterior panel is installed. Gypsum board has an HMIS fire rating of 0. The gypsum panel acts as a barrier in case of fire because it is nonflammable and relatively sturdy. In this application it is designed to prevent the fire from entering the building. In the investigation of the Monte Carlo fire, they are saying that the fire did enter a couple of rooms, but at that point the sprinklers came on in those rooms and suppressed it.

To me, that looks like exposed raw EPS foam in the photo of the cracked balustrade on Bellagio. Densly packed beads of polystyrene (styrofoam). Read this pdf of the OSHA Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for EPS Insulation Board I found on the Dryvit website .
It has an HMIS fire rating of 4, which is the absolute highest flammability rating on the HMIS rating system. It has a Flash Point of 57 degrees Fahrenheit. During handling It generates static electricity. It also releases flammable vapors of pentane which can generate ignition and flashback to the source. The smoke from burning EPS contains CO (carbon monoxide) which causes fatal poisoning when inhaled (CO is invisible and odorless, so that is aside from the thick black smoke in the fire. The bad smell from burning styrofoam is hydrogen bromide).

The Dryvit coating materials all have an HMIS fire rating of 0, so they are very safe and won't burn. So I guess as long as the coating stays in place when exposed to fire, and the sealed EPS doesn't melt too much within the composite, it's safe. But the instant the EPS is exposed to flames, it's a disaster.

February 2, 2008 11:47 AM Posted by Tom M

This is a great discussion, I am really enjoying it. While I was as shocked as anyone about how quickly that fire spread, the truth is that nobody was hurt in this fire. Any fire retardant material is only going to slow something like this down. I expect that this is a much better event than the MGM(Bally's) fire that killed 84 people. There is no way to fireproof a building like this. They only thing that you can do is use materials that slow it down so the firefighters can get it put out quickly and the guests can be evacuated safely. Even though there will be additional improvements in the future, I think this fire demonstrates the improvements made since the last big fire that was so devastating. And kudos to the firefighters who have to lean out of windows on the top of these buildings to put out fires. I would freak out if I had to do that way up high, like even 50 ft up. I am not good with heights:)

February 2, 2008 7:36 PM Posted by Hunter

Lots of other sources have posted interesting details in the past few days.

The fire report:


February 2, 2008 9:05 PM Posted by mike_ch

re "Nobody's hurt": I'm curious what kinds of toxins went into the air as a result of this fire and for how long and how widespread? Not just for the guests, but for people like myself who arrived on the scene shortly after the flames were gone to look at the damage.

I hate to evoke the various respiratory problems caught by people who volunteered at Ground Zero here, because I know it wasn't THAT serious, but I guess I'm paranoid. *shrug* I'd hate to think that some years down the line I'm going to regret running down to the Strip that late afternoon.

February 2, 2008 9:24 PM Posted by Hunter

Honestly mike, that does sound a little paranoid. I'd be very surprised if that fire put out enough of anything to spike any meter of environmental make up. Not that the environmental concerns of the materials should be ignored, I just don't think enough of it burned in this instance... but what do I know?

February 3, 2008 1:14 AM Posted by mike_ch

Yeah, I mean, by the time I got down there, the smoke was gone and suits were standing around where flaming wreckage had been dropping. But there were plenty of people around as it went off.

Although if the people being treated for smoke inhalation haven't had any problems, I doubt any spectators on the ground would. I guess I'm just more curious for curiousity's sake since Mark mentioned carbon monoxide and other nasty things.

February 3, 2008 5:20 AM Posted by detroit1051

Sunday's LV Sun discusses the use of construction foam and says current code is essentially the same as the 1991 code in effect when Monte Carlo was built. There doesn't seem to be enough urgency to develop standards "...when the assembly is compromised." The article identifies Sto Corp as the probable manufacturer of MC's system.

February 3, 2008 8:51 AM Posted by Aaron_B


Do you know if the fire entered the Monte Carlo rooms by burning through the gypsum board sheathing or by bursting windows?

Does anyone know if building owners were to do annual inspections of their EIFS claddings and ornamentation such as the foam balustrades or similar ornaments, recoating cracks in them with more synthetic stucco such as Dryvit if this would greatly reduce the potential fire danger?

It seems that the fire the other year at the Venetian when the �Phantom� sign banner caught fire did not cause nearly the same type of dammage. Does anyone know if the ornamental tower at the Venetian was coated in EIFS? I recall seeing fire damage to the balustrade which LVS took forever to repair & recall thinking the material making up the balustrade looked similar to the balustrades at Bellagio.

February 3, 2008 9:03 AM Posted by Mark D

On Saturday I went by the Monte Carlo to look at the repair work. Got on top of the NYNY garage to get a closer look. About 50 windows are gone and they are installing all new gypsum board everywhere there was fire. Just the middle part left to fix. All over you can see thick pieces of exposed broken foam at the ends of the pieces where they tore off the burnt part of the ornamentations. There's a burnt area near the bottom where you can see that dripping flames were trying to spread the fire down there.

The building inspector said in interviews that he didn't know of any of this foam being used on the interiors of any of the resorts. But back when the Venetian was being built I recall talking to some sculptors who were making the statues and they said they were all made of styrofoam and had a coating to look like marble or a bronze patina.

February 3, 2008 10:53 AM Posted by mike_ch

Mark, I wouldn't be surprised. Nor would I be surprised to learn it's being used all over the inside of Caesars, particularly Forum Shoppes. Still, the problem isn't if they're using this stuff, because they're hardly alone, it's where they're using it. Many buildings use EIFS, the problem is putting them over 20 storeys into the air. Aside from the folks who refuse to stop gambling and have to be carried out with their VP machine, evacuation procedures are much more orderly on the ground floor than they are a few hundred feet up.

Covering an Apple Store or a mini-mall with this stuff is very different from cladding a 30-floor building worth billions of dollars. With Clark Co would realize this, but I doubt it'll ever happen.

February 3, 2008 11:25 AM Posted by Mark D

I just thought of something. Does anyone else see a correlation between the omission of a proper welding permit at the Monte Carlo, and the scandal over omission of proper permits for the remodeling of rooms at the Rio and Harrah's? Seems to be a pattern of these companies shrugging off proper permitting procedures. Someone said it takes a long time to get the permits. Perhaps that might lead to lapses. Maybe the county needs to change their procedures.

February 3, 2008 12:09 PM Posted by Mark D

Aaron_B, I suspect the fire might have bursted or buckled some windows creating gaps for the fire to enter those couple of rooms. Glass will bend with enough heat. I don't know for sure how it entered though, and the sprinkler requirement after the MGM fire worked at the Monte Carlo, thank god.

I had totally forgotten about that fire on the Venetian' Campanile di San Marco tower out front. The reports I've now dug up say the banner blew off in the wind and a light fixture caught it on fire and that lit the outside of the structure on fire and there were forty foot flames. It was a three alarm fire, but since it's an uninhabited structure (or do people go in that?) it didn't effect visitors or get much attention in the press. I'm sure it is made of foam. Seems this burning foam stuff goes out pretty fast once they get water on it. While searching I found another report that there was a fire in 2004 which damaged five rooms inside the Venetian hotel and floors 9 and 10 were evacuated, but that one seems unrelated to foam. Just a routine interior fire like you'll find in buildings all over the world.

Mike_ch, that's right, Caesars has a lot of those styrofoam statues inside too, in fact, one of the moving statue shows features real bursting flames right next to the statues. Maybe the moving statues are some sort of rubber?

February 3, 2008 2:16 PM Posted by mike_ch

Mark, those "statues" are robots, what's typically called Audio-Animatronics (although the term is coined and owned by Disney so you don't see it as much in the press.) AAs are used all over the Disneylands of the world in the Haunted Mansion and Pirates etc, and the skin is basically a rubber skin.

Mechanics at Caesars have mentioned that the AA with the flaming sword at the old Atlantis show has partially burned up and had a melting hand or what have you, but new molds can be made all the time. In fact, they generally have to, as old molds look terrible as anyone who has seen Carousel of Progress at Disney World in the past few years can attest to.

February 3, 2008 4:46 PM Posted by Hunter

Some great new photos of the repairs from Mark:

Thanks Mark!

February 5, 2008 7:53 PM Posted by detroit1051

Monte Carlo's website shows no room availability through February 22. I thought it would re-open this week.

February 7, 2008 1:59 PM Posted by Chris V

I "think" the aesthetic mouldings used were not EIFS, at least the dentil ones which were so visible. It is nearly impossible to make a dentil EIFS moulding because they are extruded, not pressed.
These are likely a rigid urethane or similar.
These mouldings, and their manufacture passes "under the radar". They are not incorporated in fire tests of EIF systems. The EIFS manufacturers have no control, as they do not make these products, though many firms which distribute EIFS materials also sell aesthetic shapes of multiple materials. Some are actually EIFS, but constructed with whatever mesh and basecoat the moulding extruder cares to use.
On the topic of interiors, excluding plaster, what commonly used material for mouldings doesn't burn? Again, you will find all kinds of "non code" applications frequently in interiors.
Most fire tested EIFS assemblies have a limit on the insulation thickness, the combustible component. Yet, there is no such limit for mouldings. The argument, which this fire clearly contradicts, is they are a minor combustible element, that calculation based on the area of mouldings to the total wall area.
The propagation of fire came not from the EIFS, but from these mouldings, coming off in huge burning chunks.
Time for users to be aware of mouldings, what they are made of, how they are attached, what is below them (particularly roofs).

February 7, 2008 6:48 PM Posted by detroit1051

MGM issued a preliminary earnings report today. In it, Monte Carlo was discussed:

"Regarding the January 25, 2008 fire at Monte Carlo, the Company notes that it maintains substantial property damage and business interruption insurance coverage, with a property damage deductible of $1 million and a business interruption deductible equivalent to a 24-hour period of lost profit. Mr. D'Arrigo said, "We are unable to determine at this early stage the financial statement impact of the fire. The resort remains closed at this time while work on the damaged roof area continues. Our design and construction teams continue to work with county officials with the goal of re-opening this resort as soon as we can. While this work continues, all Monte Carlo reservations are being honored by the Company and transferred to our other Las Vegas Strip resorts."

February 8, 2008 8:28 PM Posted by detroit1051

Monte Carlo will re-open with 1,200 rooms on Friday, February 15. 1,300 more rooms on February 22, but the 500 rooms/suites on the top floors will remain closed due to "...more extensive redesign."

July 8, 2008 1:10 PM Posted by steve yarnall

do you have a website?
the fact that you cranked out 3 or 4 renderings in this blog is very impressive...would like to learn more about your rendering talents
steve yarnall