NATIONAL FIRE PROTECTION ASSOCIATION
MGM Grand Hotel Fire
Las Vegas, Nevada
November 21, 1980
On the morning of November 21, 1980, 84 people died and
679 were injured as a result of a fire at the MGM
Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. This was the second largest
life-loss hotel fire in United States history.
In conjunction with the Clark County Fire Department, a
cooperative investigative effort is in progress by the
National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the U.S. Fire
Administration (USFA), and the National Bureau of
Standards (NBS). This effort is being conducted under the
NFPA/USFA/NBS Major Fires Investigation Agreement.
This agreement, funded by all three organizations, provides
for the investigation of technically significant fires by
NFPA Fire Investigations Department to document and analyze
incident details and report lessons learned for loss
prevention purposes. Due to the extensive nature of the
MGM incident, all three groups had personnel on site; NFPA
is responsible for data compilation, analysis, and final
In addition, a human behavior study of hotel occupants
is being conducted by NFPA in cooperation with the
Clark County Fire Department, U.S. Fire Administration,
and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and
Health. It is expected that results of both studies will
be available by June, 1981.
The MGM Grand Hotel was located on the southeast corner
of the intersection of East Flamingo and Las Vegas
Boulevards. The 26-story building was constructed during
1972 and 1973 and opened in December of 1973. Like most
of the large hotels on the “Strip”, this building
was located in Clark County.
The building consisted of a very large ground floor area
that contained the Casino, restaurants, showrooms, a
convention center, and the upper level of a jai alai fronton.
(See attached diagrams.) The below grade level (Arcade
level), which had approximate outside dimensions the same
as the Casino level, contained the lower level of the jai
fronton, a movie theatre, a large number of shops and boutiques,
service areas, and underground parking. The
number of shops and boutiques, service areas, and underground
parking. The Casino and Arcade levels communicated
directly via an open stair. The gross dimensions of the
Casino and Arcade levels were 380 feet by 1200 feet.
The Casino itself was approximately 150 feet by 400 feet.
The hotel consisting of three wings was built on top of
Casino and Arcade levels. Each wing was approximately 320
feet long and 70 feet wide.
The T-shape tower contained 2076 guest rooms. Seven hundred
eighty additional guest rooms were under construction
on the west side of the existing building. On the morning
of November 21, 1980, there were at least 5000
guests, staff, and other people in the building.
The building was of mixed construction. The construction
types included fire-resistive, protected noncombustible,
and unprotected non-combustible. The interior finish varied
significantly and included both combustible
and non-combustible materials.
The buliding complex was partially sprinklered. Protected
areas included the Arcade level, major portions of the
Casino level, and part of the 26th floor. Protected areas
on the Casino level included convention areas, showrooms,
and some restaurants. The large gambling Casino and the
high-rise tower were not sprinklered.
Means of egress from the Casino level was either through
doors directly to grade or down a stairway to grade. The
means of egress system for the high-rise tower consisted
of one interior stair and one smokeproof tower for each
three wings for a total of six stairs. All of the stairs
discharged to the outside of the building. At the bottom
of most of
the stairs, horizontal passages were used to reach the
outside. All three of the interior stairs and one of the
towers were not enclosed with two-hour fire rated construction.
Due to locked doors, once the people entered stair
enclosures, they could not gain access to other floors.
A manual fire alarm system with bells and public address
capability was provided in the building. There did not
appear to be manual pull stations on the Arcade or Casino
levels; however, the system could be activated from the
security office on the Casino level. Manual pull stations
were located throughout the guest room floors. The system
was arranged to sound a pre-signal and then a general alarm
in five minutes after activation of a manual pull station.
The system was a local signalling system only. Other than
automatic sprinklers, there were no automatic detection
devices in the building.
There were four major subsystems for the heating, ventilation,
and air conditioning (HVAC) system. Heated or
cooled air was supplied through ducts for the Arcade and
Casino levels. Return was through air transfer grills and
lighting system to a large return air plenum above the
ceiling. The return air plenum for almost the entire Casino
was through one undivided area.
The second subsystem provided conditioned air from a mechanical
penthouse on the roof to the central core and
three wings of the high-rise. This penthouse also contained
the elevator machinery for one bank of elevators. There
was no return air from the guest room corridors. The third
subsystem included guest rooms equipped with individual
fan coil units. These had chilled water piped to them.
Make-up air was provided from the corridor for these units.
fourth subsystem was provided for toilet exhaust. The toilet
exhaust system serviced the Casino level and guest room
toilets in the tower.
In the high-rise portion of the building, there were two
“seismic joints” that went from the area above
of the Casino to the return air plenum above the 26th floor.
These were shafts, approximately one foot wide, that
isolated the east and west wings of the biulding from the
south wing. The bottoms of these seismic joints were not
enclosed and communicated directly with the return air
plenum above the Casino ceiling. Where the corridors crossed
these seismic joints on each level, there were flexible
non-fire rated “accordian fold” stainless steel
panels in the walls
of the corridor that went from the floor to the ceiling.
At approximately 7: 10 a.m. on November 21, 1980, an employee
discovered a fire in a bus station in a restaurant
called the Deli at the east end of the Casino. The bus
station was a waitress and bus boy service area. The Deli
open for business. The Casino and adjacent coffee house
were in full operation. Security was contacted and an attempt
made to extinguish the fire using an occupant use hose;
due to the magnitude of the fire, the attempt was unsuccessful.
The Clark County Fire Department was notified at about
7:15 a.m. There is no evidence that the building fire
alarm system sounded.
The Clark County Fire Department has determined that the
most probable source of ignition of this fire was electrical
in nature. This occurred wthin a combustible concealed
space adjacent to a pie case along the south wall of the
The first materials ignited included plywood used to enclose
the pie case. The fire most likely smoldered for a
period of time before breaking out of the concealed space
and into the Deli bus station at approximately 7:lO a.m.
Initially smoke would have moved directly from the bus
station to the return air plenum above the ceiling through
an air transfer grill. Once open flaming took place in
the bus station, the fire apparently began spreading on
lightweight fuels such as plastic and paper products and
combustible interior finish. The fire then spread to the
of the Deli, consuming other available combustibles such
as wooden decorative members and foam plastic
padding of chairs and booths.
Flashover of the bus station and then the Deli along with
the lack of fire resistant barriers allowed the transfer
thermal energy intp the Casino. Large amounts of air flowing
through the adjacent coffee house and the Arcade provided
a fresh air supply for the fire. Present in the Casino
were highly combustible furnishings and contents and combustible
interior finish. Large amounts of plastic materials such
as foam padding and mouldings were included in the
fuels. The presence of fuel, air supply and a very large
undivided area allowed for extremely rapid fire spread and
heavy smoke production. The entire Casino and Porte cocher*
on the west end of the building were fully involved with
*A roofed structure extending from the entrance of a building
over an adjacent driveway and sheltering those
getting in and out of vehicles.
fire by 7:25 a.m. There were limited or nonexistent barriers
to fire spread which allowed the spread of heat, smoke,
and other products of combustion to the building’s
upper floors. These shafts included elevators, stairs, and
located at seismic joints in the high-rise tower.
Tower occupants slowly became aware of the fire by smelling
or seeing smoke, people yelling, or eventually due
to helicopters flying around the building. Some occupants
were able to exit the building without assistance. Many
rescued by fire fighters, construction workers, and passersby.
Many other occupants made their way to the roof where
they were removed by helicopter. A large number of guests
were trapped in their rooms where they awaited rescue.
Total evacuation of the building took nearly four hours.
Preliminary information as to the locations of victims
in the hotel accounts for approximately 78 of the total
fatalities. Some casualties were removed from the upper
levels of the building before their locations were documented.
Fourteen victims were on the Casino level and approximately
64 victims were on the upper floors of the hotel. Of the
64 victims above the Casino level, 29 were located in guest
rooms, 21 were in corridors and elevator lobbies, five were
in elevators, and nine were in stair enclosures. Most victims
were on the 20th through the 25th floors.
Three of the interior stairs were not enclosed with two-hour
fire rated construction. There were direct openings
from the return air plenum above the Casino to these stairs.
In addition there were non-rated access panels that allowed
fire and products of combustion to spread into these stairs.
The spread of smoke into the stairs directly contributed
to several fatalities. At least one of the smokeproof towers
was not enclosed on the bottom with adequate fire resistant
materials which allowed direct transmission of smoke from
the casino area into the smokeproof tower. As far as can
be determined, the air handling equipment was not equipped
with smoke detectors arranged to shut down the systems
upon sensing products of combustion. In addition some fire
dampers were disabled so that they could not close when
the fusible links melted and others did not close completely.
As a result, products of combustion were distributed
through the tower by the HVAC equipment.
The fan coil units in the guest rooms most likely contributed
to the movement of products of combustion from
the corridors to the guest rooms. These fan units were
not directly connected to any vertical air shaft and provided
method for spread of smoke that may also have contributed
to several fatalities.
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