Other Skyscraper Fires
Fires Have Never Caused Skyscrapers to Collapse
|The One Meridian Plaza fire|
Excepting the three 9-11 collapses, no fire, however severe, has ever caused a steel-framed high-rise building to collapse. Following are examples of high-rise fires that were far more severe than those in WTC 1 and 2, and Building 7. In these precedents, the fires consumed multiple floors, produced extensive window breakage, exhibited large areas of emergent flames, and went on for several hours. The fires in the WTC towers did none of these things.
The One Meridian Plaza Fire
One Meridian Plaza is a 38-floor skyscraper in Philadelphia that suffered a severe fire on February 23, 1991. The fire started on the 22nd floor and raged for 18 hours, gutting eight floors and causing an estimated $100 million in direct property loss. 1 2 3 It was later described by Philadelphia officials as "the most significant fire in this century".
The fire caused window breakage, cracking of granite, and failures of spandrel panel connections. 4 Despite the severity and duration of the fire, as evidenced by the damage the building sustained, no part of the building collapsed.
|The First Interstate Bank fire|
The First Interstate Bank Fire
The First Interstate Bank Building is a 62-story skyscraper in Los Angeles that suffered the worst high-rise fire in the city's history. From the late evening of May 4, 1988 through the early morning of the next day, 64 fire companies battled the blaze, which lasted for 3 1/2 hours. The fire caused extensive window breakage, which complicated firefighting efforts. Large flames jutted out of the building during the blaze. Firefighting efforts resulted in massive water damage to floors below the fire, and the fire gutted offices from the 12th to the 16th floor, and caused extensive smoke damage to floors above. The fire caused an estimated $200 million in direct property loss. 5
A report by Iklim Ltd. describes the structural damage from the fire:
The 1 New York Plaza Fire
Close-up of the First Interstate Bank fire
Photo: New York Board of Underwriters
1 New York Plaza is a 50-story office tower less than a mile from the World Trade Center site. It suffered a severe fire and explosion on August 5, 1970. The fire started around 6 PM, and burned for more than 6 hours. 7
Caracas Tower Fire
The tallest skyscraper in Caracas, Venezuela experienced a severe fire on October 17, 2004. The blaze began before midnight on the 34th floor, spread to more than 26 floors, and burned for more than 17 hours. Heat from the fires prevented firefighters from reaching the upper floors, and smoke injured 40 firefighters.
Lax enforcement of fire codes in Venezuela was blamed for the malfunctioning of water pumps and a lack of fire extinguishers inside of the building. Because the building was empty when the fire broke out, no civilians were killed or injured. 8
The Windsor Building Fire
|The Windsor Building fire|
A more recent case of a severe high-rise fire is the one that destroyed the Windsor Building in Madrid, Spain on February 12, 2005. The Windsor fire was more severe than any of the fires described above, and the incident has been widely publicized, with comparisons to the fires in the three World Trade Center skyscrapers on 9/11/01. However, the Windsor Building, unlike all the buildings mentioned above, was framed in steel-reinforced concrete rather than steel. Hence it is described on a separate page, which notes differences between the response of these different types of structures to fires. 9
The Beijing Mandarin Oriental Hotel Fire
|The Hotel Mandarin Oriental blazes|
The most recent example of a spectacular skyscraper fire was the burning of the Hotel Mandarin Oriental starting on February 9, 2009. The nearly completed 520-foot-tall skyscraper in Beijing caught fire around 8:00 pm, was engulfed within 20 minutes, and burned for at least 3 hours until midnight. Despite the fact that the fire extended across all of the floors for a period of time and burned out of control for hours, no large portion of the structure collapsed.
It is tempting to draw parallels between this spectacle and the destruction of WTC 1, 2, and 7 because of the stark opposites: on 9/11/01, three skyscrapers were transformed into piles of rubble primarily as a consequence, supposedly, of fires -- fires spanning small fractions of each building; and on 2/09/09, a skyscraper remained intact after burning like a torch for hours. However such parallels may be limited by major structural differences between the buildings in the two cases -- one being that the Hotel Mandarin Oriental, designed by the famous Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, had a full-height interior atrium, and thus had the hollowness that the 9-11 Commission deceptively attempted to attribute to the Twin Towers. 10
Perhaps the relevance of the Mandarin fire to the events of 9/11/2001 is more symbolic than forensic. The Mandarin fire is examined more fully here.
2. High-rise Office Building Fire One Meridian Plaza, [cached]
3. One Meridien Plaza, [cached]
4. High-rise Office Building Fire One Meridian Plaza Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, [cached]
5. First Interstate Bank Fire, lafire.com, [cached]
6. Interstate Bank Building Fire Los Angeles, California (May 4, 1988), [cached]
7. U.S. Report on Trade Center Echoes Lessons of Past Disasters, New York Times, 4/2/02 [cached]
8. Towering Inferno In Caracas, CBSNEWS.com, 10/18/04 [cached]
9. U.S. Report on Trade Center ..., New York Times, 4/2/02
10. Fire claims building at CCTV Beijing headquarters, reuters.com,