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Context of 'November 10, 1999: North WTC Tower Suffers Last ‘Significant’ Fire Prior to 9/11; Bigger Fire Occurred in 1975'

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The North Tower of the WTC suffers a fire on its 104th floor. This is the 15th and last of what the National Institute of Standards and Technology later describes as “significant fires,” which occurred in the Twin Towers from 1975 onwards, and prior to 9/11. These fires each activate up to three sprinklers but are confined to just one floor. [Kuligowski, Evans, and Peacock, 9/2005, pp. 7-11] Additionally, on February 14, 1975 a major fire occurred, the result of arson, which began on the 11th floor of the North Tower during the middle of the night. Spreading through floor openings in the utility closets, it caused damage from the 10th to 19th floors, though this was generally confined to the utility closets. However, on the 11th floor about 9,000 square feet was damaged. This was about 21 percent of the floor’s total area (43,200 square feet) and took weeks to repair. Some parts of the steel trusses (floor supports) buckled due to the heat. 132 firefighters were called to the tower in response, and because the fire was so hot, many got their necks and ears burned. Fire Department Captain Harold Kull described the three-hour effort to extinguish it as “like fighting a blowtorch.” [WTC Environmental Assessment Working Group, 9/2002, pp. 10 pdf file; New York Times, 5/8/2003; Glanz and Lipton, 2004, pp. 213, 214, 324; Kuligowski, Evans, and Peacock, 9/2005, pp. 1] An article in Fire Engineering magazine will later summarize, “[A]lmost all large buildings will be the location for a major fire in their useful life. No major high-rise building has ever collapsed from fire. The WTC was the location for such a fire in 1975; however, the building survived with minor damage and was repaired and returned to service.” [Fire Engineering, 10/2002] Building 7 of the WTC, which completely collapses late in the afternoon on 9/11, has also suffered a ‘significant’ fire in 1988, occurring on its third floor, with multiple sprinklers being activated. [Kuligowski, Evans, and Peacock, 9/2005, pp. 12]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

World Trade Center Building 7 (WTC 7) suffers fires on several floors, some of which last until 5:20 p.m., when the building collapses. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/21/2008] WTC 7 is a 47-story office building located just north of the Twin Towers. It is damaged when the north WTC tower (WTC 1) collapses at 10:28 a.m. (see 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 11/2008, pp. 2, 16]
Fires Started by Collapse Debris - Two official reports on the collapse of WTC 7 will tentatively conclude that fires in this building are initiated by debris that is ejected when the North Tower collapses (see 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). In a 2002 report (see May 1, 2002), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will state, “It is likely that fires” in WTC 7 “started as a result of debris from the collapse of WTC 1.” [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 5/1/2002, pp. 5-20] In a 2008 report (see November 20, 2008), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will state, “Most likely, the WTC 7 fires began as a result of burning debris from the collapse of WTC 1.” However, NIST will add, “visual evidence of fires in the building was not available until around noon.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 11/2008, pp. 18]
Fires Spread in WTC 7 - According to NIST, fires are ignited “on at least 10 floors” of WTC 7, but “only the fires on floors 7 through 9 and 11 through 13 grew and lasted until the time of the building collapse.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 11/2008, pp. xxxvi] NIST will state, “Early fires were seen on the southwest corner of floors 19, 22, 29, and 30 shortly after noon,” but “These were short-lived.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 11/2008, pp. 51] The fires on floors 7 to 9 and 11 to 13, however, “grew and spread, since they were not extinguished either by the automatic sprinkler system or by [the New York City Fire Department], because water was not available in WTC 7.” Fires are “generally concentrated on the east and north sides of the northeast region beginning at about 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 11/2008, pp. 21] The fires on floors 7 to 9 and 11 to 13 have “characteristics similar to those that have occurred previously in tall buildings,” according to NIST, and “Their growth and spread [are] consistent with ordinary building contents fires.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 11/2008, pp. xxxvi] These fires are “fed by combustibles (e.g., desks, chairs, papers, carpet) that were ordinary for commercial occupancies.” However, NIST will point out, there is “no evidence that the fires spread from floor to floor, except, perhaps, just prior to the collapse of the building.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 11/2008, pp. 51-52]
Limited Evidence Available - Both FEMA and NIST will admit that their accounts of the fires in WTC 7 are based upon imperfect evidence. In its report on the WTC collapses, published in May 2002, FEMA will note, “Currently, there is limited information about the ignition and development of fires at WTC 7.” [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 5/1/2002, pp. 5-20] In the final report of its investigation of the collapse of WTC 7, NIST will point out that “available images showing fires in WTC 7 did not allow the detailed description of fire spread that was possible for the WTC towers.” The report will add: “It must be kept in mind that [NIST’s] fire observations were based on images of the exterior faces, which provided little indication about the behavior of fires well removed from the exterior walls. It is likely that much of the burning took place beyond the views of the windows.” But, the report will state, “[T]here was sufficient information to derive general descriptions of fire ignition and spread on various floors of the building.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 11/2008, pp. 18]
NIST Blames Fires for Collapse - WTC 7 collapses at 5:20 p.m. this afternoon (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). In late 2008, at the end of its investigation into WTC 7’s collapse, NIST will blame the fires WTC 7 suffers for causing its collapse (see August 21, 2008 and August 21, 2008). NIST will state: “The heat from the uncontrolled fires caused steel floor beams and girders to thermally expand, leading to a chain of events that caused a key structural column to fail. The failure of this structural column then initiated a fire-induced progressive collapse of the entire building.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/21/2008; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 11/2008, pp. xxxvi-xxxvii] However, critics will dispute this conclusion, instead blaming explosives for the collapse (see August 21, 2008). [New York Times, 8/21/2008] FEMA will offer no firm conclusions about the possible role fires play in causing WTC 7 to collapse. In its 2002 report it will state, “The specifics of the fires in WTC 7 and how they caused the building to collapse remain unknown at this time.” [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 5/1/2002, pp. 5-31]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


Several small fires burn inside World Trade Center Building 7.
Several small fires burn inside World Trade Center Building 7. [Source: New York City Police Department]World Trade Center Building 7 is reported to be on fire. [CNN, 9/12/2001]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

May 30, 2002: WTC Recovery Efforts End

Recovery efforts end at the World Trade Center site. [Associated Press, 5/31/2002]

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

By this time, 358 New York City firefighters and paramedics are on sick leave or light-duty because they have the “World Trade Center cough” (see November 26, 2001). [Newsday, 9/10/2002]

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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