At 3:08 a.m. on April 6, 1990, the Miami Beach Fire department received a telephone call reporting a fire at the Fontana Hotel. First-in fire units found the hotel's lobby area heavily involved in fire and began simultaneous suppression and rescue operations.  Before the fire had been extinguished 9 patrons died and the building was extensively damaged.
Investigators were unable to determine the cause of the fire which appeared to have originated in a crawl space above a storage room. Once the fire burned out of the crawl space, it ignited combustible ceiling tiles and other combustible materials in a lobby area. Smoke and fire in the lobby area spread to the second and third stories through a utility shaft, normal cracks and voids in the structure, and HVAC ductwork.
Retroactive application of the NFPA Life Safety Code by the Miami Beach Fire Department contributed to the large number of survivors in this incident. This is especially remarkable when the general construction of the building, advanced age of the majority of guests, and the time of alarm are considered. More than 90 percent of the building population survived. Well-constructed stair towers contributed to the evacuation of guests in the building.