LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — It was 42 years ago when fire and suffocating smoke raced through the MGM Grand Hotel killing 87 people and injuring more than 600. That tragedy led to sweeping safety changes stretching beyond the Las Vegas Strip.

The fire happened in the original location of the MGM Grand Hotel which is now Bally’s Las Vegas – but soon to be renamed Horseshoe.

The electrical fire started in a restaurant creating a fireball that tore through the casino floor and sent smoke and fumes through the ventilation system into the hotel rooms where people were sleeping. Many of the deaths were due to smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Air Force helicopters hover over the MGM Grand Hotel. The huge copters brought fire fighting equipment and firefighters and landed them on the building’s roof. (Photo: Getty Images)

“It was a major, major fire,” said former Clark County Fire Department Chief Fire Investigator Mike Patterson. “It’s indwelled upon my brain forever.” 

Patterson says various factors, including zero sprinklers in the casino, contributed to the deadly aftermath that morning. “It was only a partially sprinkled building which meant the areas that had 24-hour supervision did not have sprinklers and the rest of the areas did,” said Patterson.  

Patterson said his investigation revealed a pie case at The Deli restaurant caused the devastation. “Getting hot all the time from the compressor and this was over a period of years, and it finally broke down and shorted out and went and caught the building on fire,” Patterson said. 

Becky Grismanauskas was a criminal investigator with the district attorney’s office. She probed the fire hours later, looking for building code violations to determine county liability. “The Ziegfield Room which was one of the showrooms,” said Grismanauskas. “There were 8 people that died on the backside of the doors because the doors were chained on the wrong side and they couldn’t get out.”  

Despite the issues that day, she credits the fire for sparking reform on hotel safety. “Sometimes there’s good,” Grismanauskas said. “You have to look hard enough to find good from bad.”  

New standards came on high-rise building safety codes not only in Las Vegas but nationwide. Design changes include sprinkler systems throughout and pressurized stairwells to prevent smoke from getting in since most people died from smoke and carbon monoxide inhalation.