Book Report: The Day the MGM Grand Hotel Burned

A new feature! A book review! @Snickers99Poker read a book on the MGM Grand fire in Las Vegas in 1980. Here’s his thoughts.

On November 20, 1980, a massive fire broke out at The MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the largest and most luxurious hotel in Las Vegas at the time. Ultimately, 84 people died due to the fire, many from smoke inhalation and breathing in the toxic fumes of melting plastic. At least one person died from jumping from the building. Helicopters plucked guests from the roof and from balconies after guests had broken out the windows, sending shards of glass to the ground.

MGM Fire Book Cover

A week or so ago, I finished the book “The Day the MGM Grand Hotel Burned” by Deirdre Coakley, with Hank Greenspun, Gary C. Gerald, and the staff of the Las Vegas Sun. It’s a very sobering account of how people died, how people escaped or were rescued, how the fire started and how it was fought, and how the community came together to help those affected.

MGM Grand Fire First Hand

There’s many first-hand stories from the survivors, from employees, from those who heard about the fire and went to the MGM Grand to help the wounded, from hospital staff, and from firefighters. There was heartbreak as husbands and wives got separated, one learning later that his wife had died in the fire. There was a couple on their honeymoon who decided to extend their trip just one more day. They both died. It’s sad but fascinating.

This book was written in 1982, so certainly things have changed with fire safety in hotels. The MGM Grand did not have sprinklers throughout the building. Only in certain areas…none in any of the guest’s rooms. But it was built to the code of the time. The few areas with sprinklers suffered little damage. Las Vegas passed new code requirements shortly after the fire. Probably every room you stay in now around the country has a sprinkler in it. It’s that thing with the sign next to it telling you not to hang anything from it.

I was 14 when this happened yet I don’t remember a thing about it despite it being worldwide news. Most likely, I wasn’t really paying attention to the news at that age. I didn’t even know there was a book about it until I Googled for more information a couple months ago since I knew so little of the MGM Grand fire. I got my copy from eBay for around $10.50.

What To Do

This book has made me think about hotel fires. I never really thought about it before. But now I’m going to follow some tips that were given in the back of the book like immediately locate the fire exit on your floor and count the number of doors away it is so if you have to crawl to the door because of smoke, you can count the doors and know when you get to the fire door. Do this FIRST thing. Drop your luggage in the room and immediately go out in the hallway. Not after you unpack, not after you rest for a few minutes. And keep your key card on the nightstand next to you when you sleep so you can grab it on your way out. You may get out into the hallway and realized you’d be better off in your room.

If you are climbing down the fire stairs, hang onto the railing for dear life. There will be people panicking and running full force into you, trying to get out. The last thing you want is to be knocked down onto the steps. You might not be able to get back up. If you can’t go down the stairs due to smoke or fire, go up to the roof.


It’s a book I recommend reading, if you can find it. I didn’t post any photos from the fire because I don’t want to get sued. But you can Google MGM Grand fire to see some. There isn’t a huge amount because this was well before we all started walking around with smart phones.

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