Las Vegas Sun - History

October 16, 2019

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Deadly casino fires helped rewrite safety standards

Hotel fires through history

The iconic windmill of the the El Rancho Vegas Hotel topples during the June 17, 1960 fire that destroyed the hotel. Firefighters struggled to preserve the windmill, but efforts were in vain. The hotel was the first official hotel casino to open on The Strip, but now an empty lot stands in its place. Launch slideshow »

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  • Celebrity Drew Carey talks about the MGM fire

Las Vegas residents and visitors have witnessed plenty of fires damage and destroy various hotels over the years. Two deadly blazes in particular, the MGM fire in 1980 and the Hilton fire in 1981, killed nearly 100 people combined — but also helped reform fire safety codes nationwide. Here's a closer look at some of Las Vegas' major casino fires:

Jan. 25, 2008 – A fire at the Monte Carlo casino-hotel injured 17 people, most suffering from smoke inhalation, and closed the Strip resort for three weeks. Workers who did not have proper welding permits accidentally sparked the fire with molten metal from a hand-held cutting torch, according to Clark County Fire Department inspectors.

2005 – A three-alarm fire at the Aztec Inn, just north of Sahara Avenue on the Strip, forced the evacuation of the casino and caused an estimated $200,000 in damages but no injuries. At the time, it was the third fire that the hotel suffered in several weeks, but fire investigators did not connect the trio of blazes.

Feb. 18, 2003 – A pre-dawn smoky fire at the Aladdin hotel and casino, sparked by a lit cigarette in a laundry chute, caused the evacuation of the 21st and 22nd floors and resulted in six people being treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.

2003 – The historic Moulin Rouge hotel and casino on West Bonanza Road burned to the ground in May. It was the first hotel in Las Vegas where black entertainers who performed on the Strip could stay. Fred Ball, 45, and John Antwan Caver, 29, were arrested on arson charges.

July 1998 – Fire investigators believed that lightning sparked a fire that erupted at the Palace Station, after flames blasted through the 21st floor during a torrential thunderstorm.

1998 – The Las Vegas Hilton Hotel reported $1 million in damages from a fire that forced the evacuation of six floors during a two-alarm fire, but no one was injured.

1993 - The under-construction Stratosphere Tower catches fire.

1986 – Thomas Edward Little Owl, born on a Montana Indian reservation, was convicted of setting a string of fires at Strip hotels in early 1986. He was sentenced in December 1986 to 10 years in prison for an arson blaze at the Sands Hotel. He no longer is imprisoned in Nevada. His whereabouts are unknown.

1981 – On Feb. 10 an arson blaze at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel killed eight people and injured scores more. A busboy lit an eighth-floor lobby curtain with a marijuana cigarette. Philip Bruce Cline was convicted of arson and is serving eight life terms, plus 15 years in state prison.

1980 – The second worse hotel blaze in United States history, the MGM Grand Hotel fire (the worst was at Atlanta’s Winecoff Hotel), took 87 lives and injured 700 people. Nevada enacted statewide regulations protecting high-rise hotels with sprinkler systems and alarms after the Nov. 21 blaze. (Sun Coverage: MGM Fire May Mean Billion-Dollar Loss | MGM Nixed Improved Sprinkler System in ‘73; Additional Coverage: Burned Into Memory)

1970s – A Holiday Inn manager died after falling asleep while smoking in bed at the Strip resort.

1969 – Clark County Fire Capt. Frank Testa suffered a heart attack while fighting a fire at the Stardust Hotel. Seventeen others were injured.

Aug. 25, 1964 - A fire that started on the roof of the Sahara hotel-casino sent gamblers out into the street and caused an estimated $1 million in damage before firefighters put out the blaze. A handful of people were treated for smoke inhalation, including hotel executive Herb McDonald. The fire ignited from a spark from a welder's torch during the installation of an air conditioning unit.

1960 – The El Rancho Vegas burned to the ground on June 17, as entertainers Pearl Bailey and Betty Grable fled the flames. The hotel’s famous neon-lit windmill toppled in the blaze.

April 7, 1955 - A spectacular fire inflicted heavy damage on one of the second floor wings of the under construction Moulin Rouge hotel.

1943 – The Meadows Hotel and Casino, built in 1931, burned down when the Las Vegas Fire Department ignored the alarm, because the Meadows was outside the city limits, east of Fremont Street and Charleston Boulevard.

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