Las Vegas Sun

September 15, 2019

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Raging Fire Traps Guests In Rooms

MGM guests watch fire

DON PLOKE / Las Vegas Sun / Sun File Photo

Distraught guests look on as fire engulfs the MGM hotel, Nov. 21, 1980. The fire alarm of the MGM could only be activated manually and there were no alarms located near the casino, which was where the blaze started. Guests learned of the fire either by witnessing the smoke or through word of mouth.

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.