It wasn’t the fire; it was the smoke

This morning over coffee, I ran across this picture of 1967 Las Vegas:





And, as is the norm for me, one thing led to another, and I fell down the hole. Eventually, I found myself reconnecting with some unpleasant memories.

Fellow crusties might remember the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino fire of 1980, which started in a deli kitchen and ended up gutting the bottom floors and killing 85 people who were stranded on the floors above. The flames incinerated the main floor of the casino and surrounding area, but it was the poisonous smoke — made worse by upper-floor hotel guests smashing out the windows in hopes of breathing fresh air, but instead inviting in all the deadly fumes — that did the worst damage.

While I can’t find the piece of video that has haunted me for 41 years, I remember it like it was yesterday: on a newscast or in a documentary, they showed a person leaping to his/her death in this fire. To this day, I can’t unsee it. Kind of like when they showed someone filming an ultralight aircraft in the sky, and suddenly, the aircraft flipped upside down, and the pilot tumbled out. I was horrified. And this was in the 1980s, mind — not some crazy independent TikTok or YouTube thing. But back to the hotel…

Talk about an absolute disaster waiting to happen. Not only were there no evacuation signs to tell guests where to go in the event of an emergency, there were almost no smoke detectors, and no sprinkler systems anywhere in the massive hotel and casino. Like the infamousĀ Triangle Shirtwaist Co. fire in 1911, the tragic death toll in the MGM fire forced city officials to revisit and improve fire safety measures.

Anyway, back to the effect this video image had on me. I had trouble sleeping for a while, although, with a newborn baby in the house, sleep was fleeting anyway, so I guess it didn’t much matter. But the whole thing terrified me to the point of insisting for years that any hotel room I booked be on the ground floor.

[Come to think of it, 1980 was a weird year for me all around. Remind me to tell you about the first-person encounter I had in the fall of 1980 with Ed and Lorraine Warren, the demonologists and ghost hunters of the Amityville HorrorĀ case. Yikes.]

A short documentary was produced shortly after the MGM tragedy. I don’t remember seeing this, but I’m sure I must have.

Funny how some images stick with you for your whole life. I’m sure we all have those memories. *shudder* Do you have any?

8 thoughts on “It wasn’t the fire; it was the smoke

  1. Darice

    Wow. There is footage I can’t unsee for sure, but this is thankfully not one of them. I came on the scene in 1981 so no recollection of this event at all. ;-) I was however evacuated from a house fire when I was 5 and the images, smell, sounds, etc. from that (and the aftermath) are still very much alive in my memory.

    As far as visuals / film: there was a movie that gave me nightmares for a long time in my childhood… I eventually gained the courage to watch it again in hopes of ‘getting over it.’ It didn’t help. The movie still bothers me – but I don’t have nightmares now. Perhaps its best you can’t find the footage.

    So glad to see the Fink is back at it. :-)

    1. Rat Fink Post author

      Darice, I was hoping you were still out there! :-) And I hear you about the movies…after watching The Exorcist, I slept with the light on for weeks. After watching The Deer Hunter in the theater, I couldn’t sleep through the night without thinking about it. Just terrible — why do we do this to ourselves??

  2. Zach O'Brien

    The waiting has paid off! She is back, and with an absolute wonderful post. Very interesting, never heard about the MGM Fires, (a bit before my time) but I do love Vegas history. As interesting as I found that information, you absolutely blindsided me with this one – “Remind me to tell you about the first-person encounter I had in the fall of 1980 with Ed and Lorraine Warren, the demonologists and ghost hunters of the Amityville Horror case”. WHAT. You are already such an interesting person and a huge inspiration to many of us who had you as a teacher. But to have an encounter with Ed and Lorraine Warren!? I must know more.

    1. Rat Fink Post author

      Zach, are you kidding me? I’m blown away (but delighted) that you read my nonsense. Yay!

      And OMG…I will devote a post to the creepy Warrens yet this week. Stay tuned.

      And I loved having you as a student — I still remember that beautiful voice. I hope you’re singing to your sweetheart!

  3. Lynn Hudson

    So glad you’re back!

    Seeing ‘The Shining’ left me sleepless for some time, but I have to say that the images of the twin towers coming down will never leave me. The whole Sept 11 event had a surreal quality about it – took me several weeks to totally put it together in my mind.
    So add me to your list! Can’t wait to see what you have to say!

    1. Rat Fink Post author

      Hey fiend! I’m glad you’re here, too.

      I didn’t think about the 9/11 horrors…that bothered me also. I’m sure you remember exactly where you were when it happened. Unbelievable that after Pearl Harbor, it actually happened again.

      Creepy post coming up soon!


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