Today in Fire History: fire at hotel and casino claims 85 lives, injures hundreds more

Blog Post created by ryan.quinn Employee on Nov 21, 2011

A fire at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas Nevada, on November 21, 1980 resulted in the deaths of 85 guests and hotel employees.  About 600 other civilians were injured and approximately 35 firefighters sought medical attention during and after the fire.  The most probable cause of the fire was heat produced by an electrical ground-fault within a combustible concealed space in a waitresses’ serving station at a restaurant in the building.

Following full involvement of the restaurant, a flame front moved through the Casino (neither the main casino nor the deli were sprinklered), and smoke spread to the high-rise tower through stairways, seismic joints, elevator hoistways and air handling systems.  The high-rise tower evacuation alarm apparently did not sound and most guests in the high-rise were alerted to the fire when they heard or saw fire apparatus, saw or smelled smoke, or heard people yelling or knocking on doors.  Of the 85 fatalities, 61 were located in the high-rise tower.

Based on NFPA’s investigation, the following factors contributed to the loss of life in this fire:

  • Rapid fire and smoke development on the Casino level due to available fuels, building arrangement, and the lack of adequate fire barriers
  • Lack of fire extinguishment in the incipient stage of fire.
  • Unprotected vertical openings contributed to smoke spread to the high-rise tower.
  • Substandard enclosure of interior stairs, smokeproof towers and exit passageways contributed to heat and smoke spread and impaired the means of egress from the high-rise tower
  • Distribution of smoke throughout the high-rise tower through the heating, ventilating and air conditioning equipment.
  • Smoke spread through elevator hoistways to the high-rise tower.

NFPA members can download a full investigation report as well as several fire journal articles about this incident.