New York City activist

February 15, 2008

WTC 7 fire weirdness, taking FEMA and NIST at their word

Many people in the 9/11 Truth movement have questioned the WTC 7 fire observations in the FEMA report and the NIST Interim Report on WTC 7, wondering if there were really so many different fires on so many different floors, most of them visible only on the south side, with no photos having been taken of most of these fires. Ditto for many of the debris damage observations.

In this post, I am going to take the opposite approach, for the most part. If we take FEMA and NIST at their word regarding the fire locations, what does that imply, or at least suggest?

I’ve been promising for a long time to write a post about the strange things I’ve noticed about the fire observations in Chapter 5 (PDF) of the FEMA report and in Appendix L – Interim Report on WTC 7 (PDF) in NIST’s June 2004 Progress Report. Well, here it is.

The FEMA report says, in section 5.5.3, “Fires at WTC 7,” on p.5-20: “According to fire service personnel, fires were initially seen to be present on non-contiguous floors on the south side of WTC 7 at approximately floors 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, and 19.”

That’s an awfully widespread fire, for “initial observations” by fire fighters who were already present on the scene anyway. How did fire on lower floors manage to leap all the way up to floor 19 so quickly?

Did the fire start in just one place? Or did it, perhaps, start in multiple separate places?

Fires which start in multiple separate locations are usually a sign of arson.

Of course, in the case of WTC 7, that’s not necessarily so. Perhaps WTC 7 was hit by flaming debris in more than one place. That’s possible, but seems a bit unlikely. Other buildings that were hit by debris and were approxomately the same distance away from WTC 1 include the World Fincancial Center buildings across West Street, the Deutsche Bank building across Liberty Street, and the Millenium Hotel across Church Street. As far as I am aware, none of these other buildings caught on fire, though some of them were severely damaged.

(On the other hand, WTC 5 and WTC 6, which were much closer to WTC 1 and had lots of debris dumped directly on top of them, did catch on fire, which is no surprise in their case.)

“Debunkers” are fond of pointing out that WTC 7 contained some severe fire hazards. It was built on top of a Con Edison substation, and there were diesel tanks in the building.

However, NIST has ruled out the diesel tanks as a cause of the fire. NIST’s Interim Report on WTC 7 specifically notes, on p. L-22, “No diesel smells reported from the exterior, stairwells, or lobby area.”

Nor can the diesel tanks account for the rapid upward spread of fire. The highest diesel tank, and the highest of the generators supplied by the diesel tanks, were on the 9th floor. (The FEMA report includes a “Tabel 5.2: WTC 7 Fuel Distribution Systems,” showing the locations of all the fuel tanks and generators, on page 5-14.)

As for the substation, the lowest known fire location was on the 6th floor, above the substation. There could perhaps have been a hidden fire on the 5th floor, or perhaps even on the 4th floor, but we have no way of knowing that for sure.

Let’s now look at the NIST Interim Report’s debris damage observations.

After WTC 2 collapsed:

• Some south face glass panes were broken at lower lobby floors

• Dust covered the lobby areas at Floors 1 and 3

• Power was on in the building and phones were working

• No fires were observed

Reported close to time of WTC 1 collapse:

• East stair experienced an air pressure burst, filled with dust/smoke, lost lights

• West stair filled with dust/smoke, lost lights, swayed at Floors 29 through 30, and a crack was felt (in the dark) on the stairwell wall between Floors 27 through 28 and Floors 29 through 30

• Floors 7 and 8 had no power, air was breathable but not clear

• Phone lights on Floor 7 were on but could not call out

After WTC 1 collapsed:

• Heavy debris (exterior panels from WTC 1) was seen on Vesey Street and the WTC 7 promenade structure at the third floor level

• Southwest corner damage extended over Floors 8 to 18

• Damage was observed on the south face that starts at the roof level and severed the spandrels between exterior columns near the southwest corner for at least 5 to 10 floors. However, the extent and details of this damage have not yet been discerned, as smoke is present.

• Damage to the south face was described by a number of individuals. While the accounts are mostly consistent, there are some conflicting descriptions:

– middle one-fourth to one-third width of the south face was gouged out from Floor 10 to the ground
– large debris hole near center of the south face around Floor 14
– debris damage across one-fourth width of the south face, starting several floors above the atrium (extended from the ground to 5th floor), noted that the atrium glass was still intact
– from inside the building at the 8th or 9th Floor elevator lobby, where two elevator cars were ejected from their shafts and landed in the hallway north of the elevator shaft, the visible portion of the south wall was gone with more light visible from the west side possibly indicating damage extending to the west

These descriptions indeed conflict. At least one person saw “the south face was gouged out from Floor 10 to the ground,” while at least one other person “noted that the atrium glass was still intact.”

The above information is based on anonymous witness testimony. Perhaps sources will be given in NIST’s final report?

Anyhow, we now come to an interesting episode:

At 12:10 to 12:15 p.m.:

• Firefighters found individuals on Floors 7 and 8 and led them out of the building

• No fires, heavy dust or smoke were reported as they left Floor 8

• Cubicle fire was seen along west wall on Floor 7 just before leaving

As we shall see later, there will be fires on floor 7 for an extraordinarily long time.

• No heavy debris was observed in the lobby area as the building was exited, primarily white dust coating and black wires hanging from ceiling areas were observed

Very interesting. This absence of heavy debris in the lobby area does call into question some of the earlier damage observations. Or did someone just work very fast at moving the heavy debris away?

Be that as it may, let’s now look at the observed fire locations. Unfortunately, most of the information about fires during the first three hours is very non-specific as to time. The following information, too, is taken from anonymous “interviews”:

From 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.:

• No diesel smells reported from the exterior, stairwells, or lobby areas
• No signs of fire or smoke were reported below the 6th Floor from the exterior, stairwells or lobby areas
• In the east stairwell, smoke was observed around Floors 19 or 20, and a signs of a fully involved fire on the south side of Floor 23 were heard/seen/smelled from Floor 22.

So apparently there was already a fire all the way up on floor 23 before the building was evacuated? Or was this seen by a firefighter before they decided to halt firefighting efforts? Even in the latter case, this fire is spreading upward awfully fast, if indeed it started in just one place.

To continue:

• Interviews place a fire on Floor 7 at the west wall, toward the south side, at approximately 12:15 p.m.
• From West and Vesey Streets near the Verizon Building, fires were observed in floors estimated to be numbered in the 20s and 30s.

All the way up in the 30’s now.

Looking from the southwest corner at the south face:

• Fire was seen in the southwest corner near Floor 10 or 11
• Fire was seen on Floors 6, 7, 8, 21, and 30

Again, all the way up on floor 30.

• Heavy black smoke came out of a large, multi-story gash in the south face

Unfortunately, we aren’t told how high up this “gash” was.

Looking from the southeast corner of the south face:

• Fire seen on Floor 14 (reported floor number) on south face; the face above the fire was covered with smoke
• Fire on Floor 14 moved towards the east face

Looking at the east face:

• Fire on Floor 14 (reported floor) moved along east face toward the north side

Apparently, there was no fire at all on the north side of the building until late afternoon. WTC 7 seems to have had fairly good horizontal compartmentalization, but incredibly lousy vertical compartmentalization – unless, of course, the fires started in more than one place.

In the FEMA report, section 5.3.3, “Compartmentalization,” begins as follows, on p. 5-11: “Concrete floor slabs provided vertical compartmentalization to limit fire and smoke spread between floors (see Figure 5-11). Architectural drawings indicate that the space between the edge of the concrete floor slab and curtain wall, which ranged from 2 to 10 inches, was supposed to be filled with firestopping material.”

“Supposed to be.” Was it?

But one would think that a fire wouldn’t travel upwards very fast anyhow in a building with concrete floor slabs.

I suppose it’s possible that the fires could have traveled upwards through an elevator shaft, or perhaps via that “gash” on the south wall (if indeed that “gash” actually existed).

However, even in the Twin Towers, which were obviously damaged a lot worse than WTC 7, the fires didn’t travel up very far from the impact zones.

Back to the NIST Preliminary Report. Next, we have a bunch more fire observations, based now on photos and videos rather than interviews. These are mostly for the north and east sides, and mostly for the latter part of the afternoon:

Before 2:00 p.m.

• Figures L–22a shows fires that had burned out by early afternoon on Floors 19, 21, 22, 29, and 30 along the west face near the southwest corner.

So the fire had already reached floor 30 and burned out there before 2 p.m.?

2:00 to 2:30 p.m.

• Figure L–24a shows fires on east face Floors 11 and 12 at the southeast corner. Several photos during this time show fires progressing north.

3:00 to 5:00 p.m.

• Around 3 p.m., fires were observed on Floors 7 and 12 along the north face. The fire on Floor 12 appeared to bypass the northeast corner and was first observed at a point approximately one third of the width from the northeast corner, and then spread both east and west across the north face.
• Some time later, fires were observed on Floors 8 and 13, with the fire on Floor 8 moving from west to east and the fire on Floor 13 moving from east to west. Figure L–24b shows fires on Floors 7 and 12.
• At this time, the fire on Floor 7 appeared to have stopped progressing near the middle of the north face.

The above three observations are all for the north face. To clarify that last observation, the fire on Floor 7 was moving west to east along the north face and stopped somewhere in the middle.

As we shall see later, when we try to figure out how the building might have collapsed, it will turn out to be very important to us that the fire on floor 7 apparently did not find its way to the east side.

By mid-to-late afternoon, the fires seem to be on lower floors only, no higher than floor 13. The fires on upper floors all seem to have burned out and not traveled up any further.

So maybe this building had decent vertical compartmentalization after all, at least on upper floors.

• The fire on Floor 8 continued to move east on the north face, eventually reaching the northeast corner and moving to the east face.
• Around 4:45 p.m., a photograph showed fires Floors 7, 8, 9, and 11 near the middle of the north face; Floor 12 was burned out by this time.

The fire on Floor 12 has burned out by this time, but the fire on good ol’ Floor 7, which has been with us from almost the very beginning of this story, still has not burned out.

Nor has the fire yet reached all parts of Floor 7, either. It never seems to have reached the east side, at least not any place visible from outside. It seems to have stopped somewhere in the middle.

Why did the fire on Floor 7 (and, to a lesser extent, the fire on Floor 6) last so long? The FEMA report notes, on page 5-23, that this is at least a little bit odd: “It is currently unclear what fuel may have been present to permit the fires to burn on these lower floors for approximately 7 hours.”

According to the FEMA report, the 7th floor contained mostly just office space for American Express Bank International. There was also a diesel “day tank” and generator for the Office of Emergency Management (OEM). (A list of the building’s tenants can be found in the FEMA report, Table 5.1, on page 5-2.)

Could the diesel tanks have caused the fire to last so long? Most likely not. A ruptured diesel tank would, most likely, behave somewhat like the jet fuel in the Twin Towers: It would spread the fire far and fast, horizontally around the floor, but then it would burn off quickly. It would not help the fire to last an unusually long time on a given floor.

Anyhow, it has been hypothesized that a very long-lasting fire on floor 7 could have caused the collapse of the building. As the FEMA report says, “It is important to note that floors 5 through 7 contained structural elements that were important to supporting the structure of the overall building. The 5th and 7th floors were diaphragm floors that contained transfer girders and trusses. These floors transferred loads from the upper floors to the structural members and foundation system that was built prior to the WTC 7 office tower. Fire damage in the 5th to 7th floors of the building could, therefore, have damaged essential structural elements.”

However, when WTC 7 collapsed, the east penthouse dropped first, suggesting that something happened to the easternmost core columns. Some experts believe, furthermore, that a failure of just column 79, the northeasternmost core column, could have triggered a failure of all the other core columns and then the entire building. (See Single Point of Failure (PDF) by Ramon Gilsanz, Structure magazine, November 2007.)

But, as we have seen, the fires on floors 6 and 7 apparently never progressed to the east side. Hence, long-lasting though the fires on floors 6 and 7 were, it seems unlikely that they caused the collapse even though one might think that the transitional structure on those floors could be an especially vulnerable part of the building, if indeed it collapsed due to fire.

So then, what could have done in the easternmost core columns?

Arthur Scheuerman, in a paper titled The Collapse of Building 7 (PDF), blames a “very severe, but ordinary, office fire” on the east side of the 12th floor. He hypothesizes that this fire made the ceiling expand, sag, and then contract after the fire burned out, yanking at the easternmost core columns.

Well, maybe. If true, this would be the very first time in history that a “very severe, but ordinary, office fire” has brought down a modern steel-frame skyscraper. There have been plenty of much-more-severe skyscraper fires that did not cause collapse. (See Other skyscraper fires on Jim Hoffman’s site.) This doesn’t necessarily prove that the fire on the 12th floor of WTC 7 could not have brought the building down, since every building is unique. But it does seem a bit unlikely, offhand. What features of WTC 7 would render it so much more vulnerable to a fire-induced collapse than any of the various steel-frame skyscrapers that have suffered much more severe fires and not collapsed?

It can be argued that WTC 7 was more vulnerable because it had already suffered some structural damage due to the debris from WTC 1. But that structural damage, to whatever extent it was indeed real, was pretty much confined to the south face. It might also have affected a core column or two, but, apparently, not any of the easternmost core columns that are believed to have started the collapse. (See the NIST preliminary report, Figure L-23c, on p. L-23.) In particular, column 79, believed by some experts to have been the most likely culprit, was far away from any structural damage due to debris.

I don’t claim to know what brought WTC 7 down.

But to me the apparently unconnected fire locations, so near the very beginning of the fire, suggest (though they do not prove) a not-quite-completely-natural fire.

P.S., 2/21/2008: Chris Sarns discusses fire progression in the east half of WTC 7 in a post in the Loose Change forum.


  1. I’ll repeat what I said on another thread.

    What seems odd to a non-expert might seem totally normal to an expert – or vice verse. What a non-expert thinks about the matter is ultimately irrelevant.

    Should one trust the expert, accept his authority, and abandon critical thinking? No. It’s perfectly possible for experts to be wrong, even in their own speciality.

    However, the experts’ opinion should be the starting point. In the case of WTC7 fires, the experts would be people who’ve seen and investigated many fires. People associated with fire departments, and insurers.

    If we want to know if WTC7 was anomalous, we should ask such investigators what they think. If they think that such events were to be expected, we ask them to give examples of where similar things happened. What precedent is there for such occurences? Where were such events to be seen? What is different about WTC7, what similar, to what happened elsewhere?

    When we’ve thoroughly gone through what such experts believe, and why they believe it, then, and only then, is it valid to express an opinion of our own, which might, just might, disagree with them.

    Comment by westprog99 — February 15, 2008 @ 11:26 am | Reply

  2. Even the FEMA report did imply that the long-lasting fire on the 7th floor was weird, noting that it was unknown what fuel could have caused that.

    As for the fire progression, it will be interesting to see what the final NIST report has to say about it.

    Anyhow, as I said, I don’t currently have any definite opinion on what did or did not happen to WTC 7. The point of this post was simply to call attention to another possible line of inquiry, not to draw any definite conclusions.

    Comment by Diane — February 15, 2008 @ 1:20 pm | Reply

  3. What does “weird” mean in this context? Unusual? Inexplicable? A clear indicator of something?

    It’s not expected that every fire would be entirely typical. Nor is it expected that every detail would be entirely explicable.

    But there are people who devote their entire lives to finding the tiniest clues of arson. If such people regard the circumstances of WTC7 as suspicious, then that means something. “Weird” doesn’t amount to anything.

    Comment by westprog99 — February 15, 2008 @ 1:26 pm | Reply

  4. In this case, “weird” = “needing further investigation.” It will be interesting to see what, if anything, the NIST final report on WTC 7 has to say about this matter.

    As I already said, at this point I don’t have a definite opinion on what did or didn’t happen to WTC 7. You seem to be very uncomfortable with me even asking questions.

    Comment by Diane — February 15, 2008 @ 2:00 pm | Reply

  5. No, I’m uncomfortable with the tendency of the Truth Movement to not ask questions. Musing in public is not the same thing as asking questions.

    The important issue is that the questions need to be asked of the people who can answer them. Who is invited as a guest speaker when the local meetings take place? Is it someone with the relevant expertise to _answer_ those questions, or someone with more questions?

    What’s the point of asking questions if you aren’t actively seeking answers?

    Comment by westprog99 — February 15, 2008 @ 2:54 pm | Reply

  6. westprog99 wrote:

    The important issue is that the questions need to be asked of the people who can answer them.

    Yes, but first the questions need to be formulated before I can ask them.

    I also have the right to “muse,” on my blog, about stuff I’ve been reading, such as the FEMA report, the NIST preliminary report, and the two other papers mentioned. Blogs were originally invented for precisely such musings.

    As for actually getting the questions answered: For the third time, I said I will wait and see what the NIST final report has to say on these matters, if anything. Then I’ll decide what to do next.

    In the meantime, if you happen to be able to refer me to any worthwhile relevant info from expert sources, I would be interested to see it. Or, if you personally happen to know anyone with relevant expertise who would be willing to post an educational comment or two on my blog, I would be happy to hear from such a person.

    But could you please stop arguing in circles with me?

    Comment by Diane — February 15, 2008 @ 3:43 pm | Reply

  7. There are a wide range of experts on various matters posting on the JREF forum. There was a thread there a short while ago where people listed their areas of expertise, and it was quite impressive. However, they all have their own agenda to the extent that they are associated with “debunking”.

    However, I went to and looked up numerous fire safety and structural engineering companies in the New York area. They are at least worth a call.

    As to musings – and comments on musings – it’s a matter of what one considers “activism” to be. If there is a genuine wish to have a new broad-based investigation into 911, then it’s necessary to gather evidence in order to make that happen. It’s necessary to convince people and politicians to fund a new investigation. To do that, there needs to be hard evidence. Analysis of NIST and FEMA by experts that points out shortcomings and inconsistencies. And if it isn’t by experts, then the general public will not be convinced, and there will be no new investigation.

    Political pressure in this matter must come from a sound technical base. There has been an investigation, highly detailed. There have been a number of other investigations, claiming to be independent. People will not reject these investigations unless it is shown in detail why they are inadequate.

    I should point out that I’m perfectly happy with the reports, and I don’t see any need for any further investigations – at least, not into issues such as the causes of the collapses. I would need to see genuine expertise to convince me otherwise.

    So until that happens, circles it is.

    Comment by westprog99 — February 15, 2008 @ 5:02 pm | Reply

  8. westprog99 wrote:

    There are a wide range of experts on various matters posting on the JREF forum. There was a thread there a short while ago where people listed their areas of expertise, and it was quite impressive.

    If it wouldn’t be inconvenient for you to do so, I would appreciate it very much if you could post a link to that thread here.

    As to musings – and comments on musings – it’s a matter of what one considers “activism” to be. If there is a genuine wish to have a new broad-based investigation into 911, then it’s necessary to gather evidence in order to make that happen.

    Of course. I am well aware that my “musings” are far from sufficient to make that happen, and that there is much more to “activism.”

    Political pressure in this matter must come from a sound technical base.

    Agreed, at least insofar as one is asking for a new investigation into technical matters. (The kinds of things that were investigated by the 9/11 Commission are an entirely different kind of matter.)

    As long as I suspect any possible merit at all to the WTC demolition theories, one of my aims will be to prod (gently) those who believe in them more strongly than I do to hone their technical base and to develop sounder arguments. (See, for example, my post Demolition of WTC: Let’s not overstate the case, please, and see also, for example, this comment following another post of mine.)

    Comment by Diane — February 15, 2008 @ 9:19 pm | Reply

  9. Hello Diane. I have always had an inkling suspicion that some of the fires in WTC7 were started deliberately. In the History Channel documentary, “9/11 Conspiracies: Fact or Fiction”, Matthys Levy stated regarding WTC7, “The initial fires started around 9:30 in the morning, so the building was allowed to burn for eight hours.” If this is the case, the fires started before either building collapsed. This would imply arson. I just assumed he said that to give the impression the fires were burning longer than they were. FEMA doesn’t have the fires starting till after WTC1 collapsed.

    Comment by tanabear — February 15, 2008 @ 9:28 pm | Reply

  10. Or it could imply, that some flaming parts flew into WTC 7 from the flight 175 impact blast, and maybe did some initial damage setting up some small fires.

    Flight 175 impact photo on Mark Roberts’s site

    However, the Aman Zafar photos indicate that at least no visible fires were burning before WTC 1 collapse.

    Collection of Aman Zafar photos (Warning: A huge page with very high resolution photos. May take time to load.)

    These Zafar photos are also famous for clearly showing large parts of the cores standing for a moment after the collapses.

    [Comment by ref1, edited by blog author Diane to HTML-ize and prettify links.]

    Comment by ref1 — February 16, 2008 @ 10:15 am | Reply

  11. What is your 9/11 Expertise? (JREF thread)

    [Comment by westprog99, edited by blog author Diane to HTML-ize and prettify link.]

    Comment by westprog99 — February 16, 2008 @ 2:21 pm | Reply

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