The largest casino resort in California was the scene of a fire this past Monday that resulted in three injuries and the venue’s hotel tower having to be completely evacuated. Now, local media outlets are reporting that the fire at the Pechanga Resort & Casino on the Pechanga Indian Reservation near Temecula may not have been an accident – it may have been intentionally set.
An investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing; however, the Pechanga Fire Department has confirmed that arson is not believed to have been involved.
The fire broke out around noon on the first floor of the elevator shaft in the venue’s original hotel tower. All 517 rooms had to be evacuated and three guests were sent to the hospital. One had suffered burns as a result of the blaze and the other two suffered from smoke inhalation.
An arson specialist was called in to assist in the investigation and the local fire chief, Jason Keeling, told reporters that he had not been able to rule out the possibility that the fire was the work of an arsonist. However, he emphasized that there was no specific indication that pointed the investigation to arson.
In a statement from the casino, spokeswoman Ciara Green said, “At approximately 11:30 a.m., a fire broke out in a hotel elevator portal in the original tower of the Pechanga Resort Casino. The Pechanga Fire Department immediately responded and knocked the fire down.” She added that all guests and staff had been ordered to the venue’s ballroom “out of an abundance of caution” and were later allowed to return to their rooms around 5 in the afternoon.
The casino resort first opened its doors in 2002. Since then, it has gone through several expansions and now offers 200,000 square feet of gaming space. This makes it the largest in the state, as well as one of the largest in the US by gaming space.
Casino fires are rare, but they do happen. In 1980, the MGM Grand in Las Vegas (now Bally’s), suffered an electrical fault in the deli on the ground floor, resulting in a fire that killed 87 people and injured another 700. That was designated the third-worst hotel fire ever in the US.
The following year, a blaze on the upper floors of the Las Vegas Hilton killed eight people and injured more than 200. Fire investigators determined that the fire had been set by a busboy, Philip Cline, who was later charged with arson and murder. He’s behind bars with no possibility of being paroled.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect that the fire officials have confirmed arson is not believed to have caused the fire.