LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — On Nov. 21, 1980, a devastating fire raced through the MGM Grand hotel (now Bally’s Las Vegas) killing 87 people and injuring more than 600. That tragedy led to sweeping safety changes that now stretch far beyond the Las Vegas Strip.
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.
It’s in the history books as one of the worst high-rise disasters in U.S. history. The hotel did not have an automatic sprinkler system.
According to UNLV gaming historian David Schwartz, it had a profound impact, not only in Las Vegas, but across the country.
The MGM fire, in combination with another deadly fire at the Las Vegas Hilton a few months later, led to safety reforms.
“It’s interesting because they finished the retrofitting in 1986 and in December of that year there was a terrible fire at the Dupont Plaza Hotel in Puerto Rico and about 100 people died, People said well this could never happen in Nevada, in Las Vegas because of the changes in their fire codes, it was seen that this was a success and made people feel a lot more confident about coming to Las Vegas,” Schwartz said.