Fire Forces Evacuation Of Copa Casino

Security guards spent much of the day turning customers away from Copa Casino. There were no visible signs of fire from the outside, but officials would not allow people back inside until all of the safety equipment was repaired and checked.

"We are in a cleanup mode at this point," Gulfport Fire Department Battalion Chief Pat Sullivan said Sunday morning. "And it's just a matter of time. We've got to get the debris from the fire itself out of there and just clean up some areas and they'll be able to open back up."

Every minute that the casino was closed, the owner was losing money.

"Quite a substantial amount of revenue, but safety comes before revenue," Copa Casino owner Rick Carter said. "You're always worried about losing revenue, but I'm more concerned about making sure that everything is ready and back and up in operation."

Carter says casino workers were welding in a storage room three decks below the gaming floor when the fire broke out. It was part of a remodeling and expansion project on a wardrobe room.

"We were cutting out a steel door that used to be a bathroom and one of the sparks got loose and ignited some material and there was just a tremendous amount of smoke," said Carter.

"They were quick to get people on it with fire extinguishers, but it got going in that room and they wisely called the fire department to assist them," Sullivan said.

Owner Rick Carter says his employees did everything right. And fire officials agree that because casino workers were well trained to deal with problems, the evacuation of customers went smoothly.

The casino reopened shortly after 7 p.m. Sunday, and Copa owner Rick Carter says people were waiting in line for the doors to reopen.