Today in fire history: A fire at the MGM Grand Hotel resulted in the deaths of 85 guests and hotel employees, 600 others  were injured and 35 firefighters sought medical attention

Blog Post created by paulalevesque Employee on Nov 21, 2014


A fire at the MGM Grand Hotel on November 21, 1980, resulted in the deaths of 85 guests and hotel employees.  About 600 others were injured and approximately 35 fire fighters sought medical attention during and after the fire.

The high-rise building, constructed in the early 1970s, consisted of twenty-one casino. Showrooms, convention facilities, jai alai fronton, and mercantile complex.  The hotel was partially sprinklered but major areas including the Main Casino and The Deli, the area of origin, were not sprinklered.  About 3,400 registered guests were in the hotel at the time of the fire.

As reported by the Clark County Fire Department, 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 of The Deli.

Following full involvement of The Deli, a flame front moved through the Casino.  Smoke spread to the high-rise tower through stairways, seismic joints, elevator hoistways and air handling systems.  The means of egress from the high-rise tower was impaired due to smoke spread into stairways, exit passageways and through corridors.

The high-rise tower evacuation alarm system 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.  Many occupants were able to exit unassisted down stairs.  Others were turned back by smoke and sought refuge in rooms.  Many broke windows to signal rescuers or to get fresh air.  The fire department confined the fire to the Casino level in a little over an hour.  It was approximately four hours before all guests were evacuated.

Of the 85 fatalities, 61 victims were located in the high-rise tower, and 18 were on the Casino level.  Five victims were moved before their locations were documented.  The 85th victim died weeks after the fire.  Of the 61 victims found in the high-rise tower, 25 were located in rooms, 22 were in corridors, 9 in stairways and 5 were found in elevators.  One person died when she jumped or fell from the high-rise tower.

The major factors that contributed to the loss of life that occurred as a result of this fire incident are the following:

  • 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 I 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.

For the full NFPA Fire Investigation report. To read the January 1982 NFPA Fire Journal article