Saturday marks 40 years since tragic MGM Las Vegas fire

Local News

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.

(Original Caption) Several of the scores of helicopters used to rescue people from the roof of the MGM Grand Hotel can be seen hovering over the hotel here. At least 75 people have died in the fast moving fire, but the helicopters were able to pluck over 1,000 people from the building. (Photo: Getty Images)

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.

(Original Caption) Las Vegas, Nev.: Rescue workers carry out an elderly survivor of the MGM Grand Hotel flash fire from the hotel. The woman is still dressed in her nightclothes and slippers, but is wearing a coat over her nightwear. The death TOLL HAS RISEN TO 81, and hundreds were injured in the fire. (Photo: Getty Images)

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.

(Original Caption) Air Force helicopters hover over the MGM Grand Hotel here, after a disastrous fire took at least 80 lives. Hundreds more guests were injured. The huge copters brought fire fighting equipment and fire fighters and landed them on the building’s roof. (Photo: Getty Images)

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.

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