One of the worst hotel fires in U.S. history occurred in Paradise, Nevada on November 21, 1980, killing 85 people and injuring over 600, including 14 firefighters.
Constructed in the early 1970’s the 21-story hotel, casino and convention and commercial complex were partially sprinklered, except for the main casino and a restaurant known as The Deli, where the fire began.
The fire is believed to have started a little after 7:00 a.m., prior to the start of business, with an electrical short that led to a fire in a combustible concealed ceiling space. As flames moved through the restaurant and into the casino, some made its way up through the high-rise through stairways, elevator shafts and air handling systems.
The first firefighters to arrive were personnel assigned to Station 11, across the street from one of the entrances to the MGM Grand Hotel. Firefighters from Engine 11 noticed smoke in the casino, coming from The Deli. Inside the casino pit the firefighters noticed a fireball rolling out of The Deli and into the casino causing them to immediately evacuate, as one firefighter reported in the fire department investigation,
“When we turned to walk back to the north entrance, it only took us approximately 12 seconds, the smoke was now down within approximately four feet of the floor. We walked through the doors to the engine, a total time lapse of 25 seconds. I looked west, towards the main entrance, and observes a fireball exiting the canopy and front entrance.”
As the smoke spread, egress from the high-rise tower was impaired. The evacuation alarm system did not sound, leaving most of the guests to not be aware of a fire unless they saw fire apparatus on the street, smelled smoke or were alerted by other people.
While some occupants were able to exit the high-rise others stayed in their rooms. Many broke windows to gain the attention of firefighters or for fresh air. 61 of the 85 fatalities were located in the high-rise tower while 18 were found on the casino level.
Of the 61 found in the high-rise, 25 were located in rooms, 22 in hallways, nine in stairwells and five in elevators. One person died after jumping or falling from an upper floor.
A National Fire Protection Association report  listed the following major factors that contributed to the loss of life:
• Rapid fire and smoke development on the Casino level due to available fuels, building arrangement and the lack of adequate fire barriers
• Lack of fire extinguishment in the incipient stage of fire
• Unprotected vertical openings contributed to smoke spread to the high-rise tower
• Substandard enclosure of interior stairs, smokeproof towers and exit passageways contributed to heat and smoke spread and impaired the means of egress from the high-rise tower
• Distribution of smoke throughout the high-rise tower through the heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment
• Smoke spread through the elevator hoistways to the high-rise tower
1. MGM Fire Investigation, Fire Scene Examination, Initial Response, Clark County Fire Department
2. Investigation Report on the MGM Grand Hotel Fire, National Fire Protection Association