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Sat Nov 21, 2020, 06:22 AM

40 Years Ago Today; the MGM Grand Hotel Las Vegas fire kills 85


The MGM Grand fire occurred on Friday, November 21, 1980 at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino (now Bally's Las Vegas) in Paradise, Nevada. The fire killed 85 people, most through smoke inhalation. The tragedy remains the worst disaster in Nevada history, and the third-worst hotel fire in modern U.S. history, after the 1946 Winecoff Hotel fire in Atlanta that killed 119 people and the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Dupont Plaza Hotel fire on December 31, 1986, in which 97 perished.

At the time of the fire, about 5,000 people were in the hotel and casino, a 26-story luxury resort with more than 2,000 hotel rooms. At approximately 7:07 a.m. on Friday, November 21, 1980, a fire broke out in a restaurant known as The Deli. The fire was discovered during an inspection of the restaurant by a tile crew. A crew supervisor noticed a flickering light, which turned out to be a wall of flames. An employee of the hotel's bakery recounted how just after 7 a.m. he saw smoke coming from the ceiling vents and the lights went out. MGM Security was immediately advised of the situation, and alerted the Clark County Fire Department which was the first agency to respond. CCFD received a call reporting the fire at 7:17 am, with the first engine arriving on site at 7:19 am. A third alarm was called at 7:22 am, and a Metro Police Helicopter pilot requested all available helicopters at 7:30 am.

Other agencies included the North Las Vegas Fire Department, Las Vegas Fire & Rescue, and the Henderson Fire Department. A massive helicopter rescue effort from Nellis Air Force Base pulled 1,000 people from the roof of the MGM Grand, involving both U.S. Air Force UH-1N (Hueys) from the 57th Wing based in Indian Springs and CH-3E (Jolly Green Giants) from the 1st Special Operations Wing based in Hurlburt Field, Florida (which were in Nevada to participate in Red Flag '80).

The fire spread to the lobby, fed by wallpaper, PVC piping, glue, and plastic mirrors, racing through the casino floor at a speed of 1519 ft/s (4.65.8 m/s; 1013 mph; 1621 km/h) until a massive fireball blew out the main entrance along The Strip. From the time the fire was noticed, it took six minutes for the entire building to be fully engulfed. It spread across the areas of the casino in which no fire sprinklers were installed. Eighteen people died in the casino level of the hotel.

The burning material created toxic fumes and smoke, which ascended throughout the hotel tower via vertical shafts (elevators and stairwells) and seismic joints and caused the majority of the deaths. Firefighters reported having to crawl through the dark and over "mounds of stuff" trying to extinguish the fire, it was later determined that the "mounds" were deceased guests and staff near an elevator bank. Proper evacuation of the hotel guests was hindered as there was no automatic means of returning elevators to the main floor during a fire, causing 10 deceased victims to be found in an elevator. Survivors recounted how some in the hotel had tied bedsheets together and hung them on balconies in an attempt to escape upper floor rooms and alert first responders.

A total of 85 people were killed (including seven employees) and 650 injured, including guests, employees, and 14 firefighters. While the fire primarily damaged the second-floor casino and adjacent restaurants, 61 deaths were on the upper floors of the hotel (19th - 24th floors), mostly in the stairwells, where all doors except on the roof and ground floor were locked and the smoke concentration was the highest. Some guests died in their sleep.

Seventy-five people died from smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning; four from smoke inhalation alone; three from burns and smoke inhalation; one from burns alone; one from massive skull trauma, caused by jumping from a high window; and one of myocarditis. The disaster led to the general publicizing of the fact that during a building fire, smoke inhalation is a more serious threat than flames.

The hotel (originally built in 1973) was repaired and improved, including the addition of fire sprinklers and an automatic fire alarm system throughout the property.

The hotel was sold to Bally's Entertainment, which changed the name to Bally's Las Vegas. Similar upgrades were also made to the nearly identical property (now the Grand Sierra Resort) in Reno, Nevada. The tower in which most of the deaths occurred is still operating as part of the hotel today. A second tower opened in 1981. The present MGM Grand hotel-casino was built to the south, near the northeast corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Avenue.

Code changes
On February 10, 1981, just 81 days after the MGM fire, another fire broke out at the Las Vegas Hilton, killing at least five people. Due to the two incidents, there was a major reformation of fire safety guidelines and codes. All buildings open to the public in Nevada were required to have fire sprinklers, smoke detectors in rooms and elevators, and exit maps in all hotel rooms. This law went into effect in 1981 and made Nevada a leader in fire safety regulation.

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Reply 40 Years Ago Today; the MGM Grand Hotel Las Vegas fire kills 85 (Original post)
Dennis Donovan Saturday OP
Sherman A1 Saturday #1

Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Sat Nov 21, 2020, 06:29 AM

1. I recall watching the coverage

It was truly sad.

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