Chapter 4: The Aftermath

Less than three months after the tragic blaze at the MGM Grand Hotel, fire strikes again at the famed Las Vegas Hilton

Photo Credit: NFPA

After the fire at the MGM Grand Hotel, safety officials in Clark County prepared their recommendations for updating the fire code that would have led to Nevada having the most rigorous standards in the United States.  However, when they were presented, state officials pushed back against the new regulations as they believed that the fire at the MGM Grand was a one-off occurrence & the odds of it ever happening again were astronomically small.  Also, money talks; casino & resort developers - who make massive campaign contributions - lobbied hard against the new standards, which they believed would slow down business and eat into their profits.

All that opposition went away less than three months later.

Front page of the Las Vegas Sun newspaper following the February 10, 1981 fire at the Las Vegas Hilton 

Photo Credit: Las Vegas Sun

February 10, 1981: A massive fire - this time sparked by arson - broke out on the 8th floor of the east wing of the famed Las Vegas Hilton.  Within minutes, flames had burst out of a window in the elevator lobby and were climbing 22 floors up the outside of the building.  At the same time, the inside of the hotel was filling up with thick black smoke and toxic fumes.

Firefighters, using what they'd learned from the MGM Grand fire used local TV news as well as the Hilton's Closed Circuit TV channel & PA systems to advise guests to remain in their rooms & wait for help from First Responders.

By the time the fire at the Las Vegas Hilton had been fully extinguished, 8 hotel guests had been killed and over 400 others - including 48 firefighters - suffered injuries, largely from smoke inhalation.

Smoke is illuminated by the Hilton sign at the top of the famed Las Vegas Hilton during a fire on February 10, 1981

Photo Credit: Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The sight of the Las Vegas Hilton being transformed into a towering inferno so soon after the MGM Grand Hotel fire reinforced panic among local officials that Las Vegas was developing a reputation for its lack of fire safety.

In the months following the MGM Grand Hotel & Las Vegas Hilton fires, Nevada regulators enacted the toughest fire code & inspection protocols in the United States.

These measures included that automatic sprinklers be required in EVERY high-rise building (with no "grandfathered" exceptions), pressurized elevator shafts & stairwells to prevent the chimney-like effect of smoke being sucked to upper levels of buildings, elevator recalls that remove elevators from service during a fire, ventilation/air conditioning system shut-off's, extensive fire alarm systems - including a voice communication system and evacuation plans posted on the back of EVERY hotel room door.

Code changes also focused on locked doors accessing stairwells.  In the MGM Grand Hotel, the doors were designed to lock behind guests to keep unauthorized guests from entering other floors.  However, during the fire, guests entered the stairwells expecting to escape to safety only to find them full of smoke - and now trapped with a locked door behind them.  New fire codes required that the doors automatically unlock when fire alarms were activated.

Since the fires at the MGM Grand Hotel and the Las Vegas Hilton, there have been other hotel fires in Las Vegas - including the evacuation of the Aladdin due to a lit cigarette in a laundry chute, a large fire on the 14th-floor pool deck of the Cosmopolitan Hotel and a fire on the roof over the retail area at the Bellagio caused by a faulty light fixture.

On January 25, 2008 memories of the MGM Grand Hotel fire were re-ignited; at around 11am that morning, welders who were working on the roof the Monte Carlo Hotel & Casino sparked a massive fire that spread to the outside of the building.  Once the decorative foam facade attached to the hotel caught fire, the flames spread quickly down the side of the hotel tower, eventually covering the top 4 floors.

With this fire, there was a huge potential for disaster - but thanks to safety measures & fire codes put into place 28 years prior, there were NO fatalities.  Sprinklers & alarms in the Monte Carlo activated as they should have, hotel staff made their way through the hotel floor by floor to ensure guests were out and loudspeakers were used to give clear & specific instructions on how to safely escape.

Unlike the MGM Grand Hotel fire, all 5000 guests and 1000 employees were safely evacuated from the Monte Carlo.  Seventeen people were treated for smoke inhalation but otherwise, there were NO serious injuries or fatalities.

If there's a silver lining that can be taken from the MGM Grand Hotel fire, it's that since the improvements made to fire codes following the disaster, there hasn't been a SINGLE fire-related fatality at any resort on the Las Vegas Strip.