|Two decades ago, the idea of a high-rise hotel fire
killing dozens of people in Las Vegas seemed impossible.
Building designs and codes were too advanced. Las
Vegas was too modern a city.
But on the morning of Nov. 21, 1980, the impossible
happened at the MGM Grand.
Wiring behind a wall in the resort's deli simmered,
then burned undetected for hours. The result was a
flash fire that spread at a
rate of 19 feet per second through the casino. The
smoke from this superfire whisked its way through
the resort's air-circulation
system and trapped victims in hallways, rooms and
About 5,000 people were inside the resort when the
fire started shortly after 7 a.m. Eighty four of those
would die at the scene
or in Las Vegas Valley hospitals. Within a year, three
more victims would succumb to fire-related injuries.
They were largely tourists and MGM employees.
An investigation found the fire seized on the hotel's
greed in constructing the resort and on a series of
installation and building
Fire marshals had insisted sprinklers be installed
in the casino during the building's construction in
1972. The hotel refused to
pay for the $192,000 system, and a Clark County building
official sided with the resort. Authorities later
said the sprinkler
system could have prevented the disaster at the hotel,
which is now Bally's.
Where the fire started, a wire that was not properly
grounded could have been discovered had the area been
compressor was not properly installed. A piece of
copper was not insulated correctly. A fire alarm never
supposedly smoke-free stairwell that was a crucial
escape route filled with smoke. The laundry chutes
failed to seal, and
defects existed in the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning
systems -- all contributing to the spread of smoke.
The fallout was $223 million in legal settlements.
There was a public -- yet not criminal -- dressing
down of those responsible
for enforcing building codes, the resort and those
who built it.
The lesson was learned, and Las Vegas is now the
undisputed leader of the world when it comes to fire
Tuesday marks the 20th anniversary of the deadliest
day in Clark County history. Here are some of the
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