LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The MGM Grand fire 40 years ago was devastating, but it did bring changes to enhance fire safety standards in high-rise and commercial buildings.
It was a sight unlike any other in Las Vegas history
8 News Now video shows plumes of smoke rising from the former MGM Grand Hotel and Casino — the location of one of the worst disasters in Nevada that killed 87 people.
“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.
The MGM Grand fire started inside the casino area of the building now known as Bally’s Las Vegas on The Strip. 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 getting in, since most people died from smoke and carbon monoxide inhalation.
Since the changes, there has not been another major fire like the MGM Grand on The Strip.