Newspaper Articles from different sources
Saturday, Nov. 22, 1980 | 6 a.m.
At least ten MGM Grand Hotel guests were reported killed in a raging fire that engulfed the 2,000 room hotel shortly after 7 a.m. Friday. More than 100 injuries were initially reported but exact figures weren’t available at press time. Officials said others may be dead inside the hotel.
The MGM’s casino was destroyed. Damage could run into the millions of dollars, witnesses guessed. It started in the west casino basement and swept through the giant hotel, blocking off all exits.
Witnesses said at least 2,000 hotel workers and guests fought their way through smoke and flames to the MGM’s roof. Fifteen helicopters, including those from Metro Police and Nellis AFB, began evacuating the panicky rooftop crowd shortly before 9 a.m.
Hundreds of off-duty firemen through the valley were called to duty. Metro graveyard shift was held over to assist 200 officers at the scene.
The injured were shuttled to every valley hospital. Most of the injuries were cuts from broken glass and smoke inhalation, although some guests were reported badly burned.
Hundreds of hotel guests smashed out their room windows with their arms and with furniture and hugged outside room balconies for relief from the choking black smoke. The mushroom-shaped cloud rose a thousand feet over the burning hotel.
Hotel security guards told the SUN they had tried to rescue some people in the hotel service areas, but had to turn back because of the heavy smoke.
Shattered glass from the broken windows on the 27-story building rained down on the sidewalk on Flamingo Road. The burned-out hulk of a care under the MGM’s parking marquee “looks just like war,” said one witness. “It’s in cinders.”
As firemen began to gain control over the fire shortly before 9 a.m., they began evacuating guests one floor at a time. Witnesses said they could see the firefighters’ progress as the balcony-hangers gradually were able to return to their rooms.
One of those dead reportedly jumped from her hotel room to her death. Two others’ bodies were found inside the hotel. Fire unit ladders only reach to the ninth floor of the MGM. Hotel workers used outside maintenance scaffolding to lower some of the trapped guests to safety.
Some of the guests were unaware of their danger, despite attempts by steelworkers on an adjoining 800-room addition to warn them.
“I saw the smoke and yelled at the people to get out of the building,” said steelworker Mike Gallagher. “They started waving at us. They didn’t know. …”
Two Detroit women said smoke forced them back to their room when they tried to reach the elevator.
“When I saw it was getting dark outside, I thought it was raining,” said Hattie Lefchik, 60. She and her sister, Virginia, 65, started to crawl toward the elevator, “but there was too much smoke.” They returned to their room until firemen led them to safety.
It was the third major Strip fire this month. About 1140 guests were evacuated from the Casino Hotel across from the Tropicana Hotel after an electrical malfunction on Nov. 12. Some 50 Riviera Hotel guests were evacuated Nov. 15 when flames gutted a plush penthouse bedroom.
MGM Fire May Mean Billion-Dollar Loss
Sunday, Nov. 23, 1980 | 6 a.m.
The blaze that destroyed the MGM Grand Hotel’s casino could result in a billion-dollar loss that would spell financial ruin for the parent corporation, local casino officials speculated Saturday.
"This disaster is just a lawyer's delight," declared a Las Vegas accountant with close ties to the casino business. He said “mountains of suits” are likely to result from Friday’s blaze.
Top MGM officials have secreted themselves and refused to respond to efforts to reach them for comment on the company’s ability to survive the disaster.
"Whatever MGM has in insurance probably isn't even going to touch the liability that may result in this situation," said a former member of the Nevada Gaming association.
MGM’s resort and movie-making business were recently spun off into separate corporate entities, and the corporate offices for MGM Grand Hotels Inc. are located in the 26-story resort ravaged by the early morning fire.
MGM Hotels consists of the hotel-casino here and another in Reno. The company has at lest temporarily shelved plans to build a casino in Atlantic City.
Local businessmen were hesitant to be quoted by name, but a former gaming controller who is not in the casino industry said, “The casino here was by far their biggest money maker. The one in Reno was not nearly as good.”
The total loss to MGM could eventually reach the billion-dollar mark, according to three other casino officials.
MGM hotels spokesman Bill Bray said corporate officials were not prepared Saturday to talk about rebuilding plans.
“We only got back into the building today,” he explained Saturday, “and we still have quite a people problem.”
The MGM was opened in late 1973 and was built then for $100 million, financed in part by the sale of $50 million in collateral trust bonds.
According to MGM Grand Hotel Inc.’s 1980 annual report, its revenue for the fiscal year ended Aug. 31 was $307.1 million, with net income of $33.9 million. Both figures were records for the company.
MGM Nixed Improved Sprinkler System in ‘73
Sunday, Nov. 23, 1980 | 6 a.m.
The officials advised owners of the MGM Grand Hotel to install a comprehensive sprinkler system during construction, but they ignored the suggestion, claiming it was too expensive, the SUN learned Saturday.
The hotel, however, fully met fire codes when it was constructed in 1973, according to former county Fire Marshall Carl Lowe.
Lowe, now a county fire captain, said he told owners of the need for a full sprinkler system when construction began in 1972.
Owners chose instead to meet minimum requirements, installing sprinklers only in the basement, showrooms and a 26th floor high roller casino later converted to meeting rooms.
"All they wanted to know was what the code stated. A fireman can see a lot more than the average citizen. But with the builders, all they saw were dollar signs," Lowe said.
County fire officials say a comprehensive sprinkler system could have saved lives and reduced damage in Friday's fire that killed at least 83 employees and guests and devastated the glittering hotel-casino.
"The building code was a little outdated for that time in Las Vegas," he said. "I would have loved to have seen sprinklers" in the hotel.
Lowe said he resigned from the fire marshall post after two years in 1973, in part because of pressure from his bosses not to enforce fire regulations. Those bosses are no longer employed by the fire department, he said.
After having a showroom overcrowding ordinance passed, he said, the fire department refused to hire enough inspectors to enforce the law. "You can't fight city hall," the 23-year fire veteran said in blaming Strip hotel owners for pressuring the county commission into not enforcing the ordinance.
Low said he is proud of his work in enforcing regulations on the MGM during construction and felt particular pain when the resort was swept by fire.
"I was there at that fire. I felt so damn bad about it because at the time of construction, I was proud of the MGM. I knew that building was fire-resistant.
He said alterations since construction may have lessened the towering structure's fire safety. Furniture may have also contributed to quick spread of the blaze.
Lowe said he recommended complete sprinkling installations to builders of all major hotels.
"They don't want to put out the money," he said, adding, "Fire prevention is one of the hardest things in the world to teach people."