At approximately 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, February 10, 1981, eight people died and 350 were injured as a result of a fire at the largest hotel in the United States. This fire has a great deal of technical significance because of exterior, vertical fire spread that involved 22 floors of the 30-story building. This was the second multiple fatality fire in a Las Vegas area hotel in a 2 1/2-month period; the first occurred November 21, 1980 at the MGM Grand Hotel and resulted in 85 deaths and almost 700 injuries
The fire at the Las Vegas Hilton was incendiary in origin. The fire quickly developed in an elevator lobby on the 8th floor that had carpeting as its wall and ceiling finish. A flame front that formed on the exterior of the building exposed each elevator lobby on the floors above primarily by radiation. The fire progressed vertically from floor to floor to the top of the building via the building's exterior.
The most significant factors that contributed to the fire spread and subsequent fatalities, injuries and damage were: Failure to extinguish the fire in its incipient stage, and the presence of highly combustible carpeting on the walls and ceilings of the involved elevator lobbies which, in turn, contributed to the exterior fire spread.
NFPA members can download the full investigaion report. Those interested in more information about hotel and motel fires can download NFPA's free fact sheet, and members can read a full report