How does one cover a fire in a city 2,000 miles away? Well, if the fire turns out to be less than a holocaust (look it up - a "holocaust" originally meant a devastating fire), it's not that hard. Also, if you're able to tap into a huge network of Vegas people from the blogs and list-servs, it's also doable. Not ideal, but doable.
Here's what I ended up with. I got quite a ribbing from my family for the idea that I could write a piece in this manner. As I said, it's not how I'd normally do it. But in a pinch -- evidently the Times simply could not find another reporter in Vegas -- it'll do.
My Las Vegas Weekly column will discuss this further, but there was something else about this experience. Since I wasn't there, I was glued to the TV. And, while I was thrilled to see that KVBC logo in the corner indicating that CNN was using Miles' TV station's footage, it was just sickening to realize that even in its hour of trauma, Vegas just isn't taken seriously.
There I was, near tears watching the apparent destruction of a major structure and worrying about the pandemonium of thousands of guests and employees having to get out. I assumed that there were tourists in the upper floors who were trapped and possibly dead. That it all worked out OK does not minimize what it looked and felt like in the beginning of the crisis.
But the folks on cable news? They thought the fire was entertaining. One CNN reporter actually wondered jokingly in the earliest stages whether the Monte Carlo buffet comp he’d recently received in the mail was still valid. FOX News Channel, which carried every O.J. Simpson press conference live, didn’t bother to pick up its local affiliate’s feed from the briefing by Las Vegas Fire Chief Steven Smith. And, yes, some bozoette on one of those stations – can’t recall which – really thought she was clever muttering, “Like Paris Hilton would say, that’s hot!” Can you imagine such irreverence if this had been the Sears Tower?
Just as amazing was how quickly the story died the minute it turned out that no humans had. Were I not on vacation, I would be pushing editors to let me do the obvious follow-up: A 32-story building containing 5,000 or so people caught major fire and everyone got out calmly. And alive. Imagine that.