Several reports indicated that at the onset this was a “One Sprinkler Head Fire” however by the time it was brought under control 85 people lost their lives with an additional 650 injured.

Las Vegas has always been known for gambling, but what happens when owners gamble on safety?

November 1st, 1980 shortly after 7am a fire was discovered in a restaurant known as the Deli at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas Nevada. The fire was determined to be an electrical fire and had smoldered for hours in the wall before being noticed. 

Several reports indicated that at the onset this was a “One Sprinkler Head Fire” however by the time it was brought under control 85 people lost their lives with an additional 650 injured.

The fire began as a result of a refrigerated pastry display that had been added after the original construction of the building. The copper refrigerant lines were run through the same wall soffit as a pre-existing electrical conduit and thus were in contact with this conduit; additionally this copper line was not properly secured. The fan forced evaporator unit caused a vibration in the copper line causing the pipe to rub against the conduit, this constant vibration eventually caused enough damage and removal of the wires insulation to be removed that arcing began and a fire was ignited. 

At 7:17am, estimated 10 minutes after fire was first discovered, Clark County Fire Department received the 911 call and subsequently arrived on the scene at 7:19am. With this quick of a response one has wonder why the death toll and injuries were so devastating. The fire spread rapidly, estimated at 19’ per second, so that within 6 minutes of the report of the fire the entire ground floor area of the MGM was fully involved in fire.

 It is reported that of the 85 deceased only 18 of these victims were in the casino level and the remainder were in the adjoining hotel tower.

So how did seemingly small fire spread without being extinguished and why did so many die in the hotel tower if the fire was concentrated in the adjoining building?

The MGM Grand was opened seven years prior to the tragic fire. The hotel was a 26 story structure attached to a large ground floor area that included a multi-use basement area. 

The owners of the property had found a loophole in the fire code: if an establishment was open 24 hours per day, sprinklers were not mandatory. It was argued that someone would always be in attendance to notice a fire and begin extinguishment. Additionally there were no smoke alarms or automatic fire alarms within the complex to alert the guest of a fire, only manual pull stations in the corridors of the hotel. 

The "eye in the sky" above the casino lacked any smoke dampers, which allowed the smoke to enter the building's circulation system, spreading deadly fumes into corridors and sleeping rooms of the hotel. Of the 84 people who were lost in this fire 80 died from smoke inhalation, many in their sleep.

Within a year building codes were changed in Nevada and all buildings opened to the public were required to retrofit sprinkler systems and all loopholes were removed from the language.