The Twin Towers: Fire Melting Steel

Was the Oakland freeway collapse corroborating evidence for the official version of the World Trade Center failure, or was it another government lie?

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Conspiracies

Skeptoid #54
July 10, 2007
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Today we're going to really put the Men in Black under the microscope. And by Men in Black, I mean blacksmiths. You know, those evil government conspirators who expect us to believe that steel can be melted by something that ignites at a far lower temperature. For thousands of years, blacksmiths have been lying to us. They've been telling us that they use coal to melt steel for casting, which, according to a poster on the Skeptalk email discussion list, burns at about 560°F. Fortunately we know better. We don't buy into their lies. We know that steel melts at 2750°F, so we know that these blacksmith shops at local living history museums are all part of the government's master plan of deception. The whole smithing profession and false history was probably invented by the government to prepare us to believe in their biggest lie: That the fires inside the World Trade Center could have brought the towers crashing down.

Conspiracy theorists love to quote retired New York deputy fire chief Vincent Dunn, who said "I have never seen melted steel in a building fire." But they conveniently omit the second half of his sentence: "But I've seen a lot of twisted, warped, bent and sagging steel. What happens is that the steel tries to expand at both ends, but when it can no longer expand, it sags and the surrounding concrete cracks."

One tactic used by conspiracy theorists that has frustrated engineers is their use of a straw man argument, which is where you repeat your opponent's position and carefully reframe it to be weaker and obviously false. Here, the conspiracy theorists have reframed the engineers' position as stating that the World Trade Center fire melted the steel. This is not true, no such claim has been made, as actual melting was neither necessary for the collapse nor possible with the amount of heat that was available.

Let's review the numbers one more time, if you're not already sick of hearing this over the past six years. Steel melts, or liquefies, at 2750°F. Let's take that off the table, because nobody claims that it got that hot, and it wasn't what happened. Jet fuel burns at up to 1500°F. Within about 10 minutes, the jet fuel was exhausted, and the fire then raged among the building itself: its furniture, rugs, curtains, papers, whatever, and temperatures preceding the collapse reached a maximum of 1832°F, according to the National Institute for Standards and Technology's analysis of heat damage to the debris, and as simulated using their computational fluid dynamics model known as the Fire Dynamics Simulator. According to the American Institute of Steel Construction, "Steel loses about 50 percent of its strength at 1100°F, and at 1800°F it is probably less than 10 percent." Even the lowest end of the temperatures inside the fire were way hotter than the hottest temperatures at which the steel trusses could have maintained integrity.

But for the conspiracy theory to work, you have to dismiss any statements made by any official or independent agency, because they could all be part of the conspiracy. The only figures considered reliable are those which differ significantly from official reports. Even expert Rosie O'Donnell told us "It's the first time in history that fire has melted steel."

But then, on April 29, 2007, fire melted steel for the second time in history. A freeway accident occurred in Oakland, California that made us all take a second look. A tanker truck carrying 8,600 gallons of gasoline lost control and crashed on an elevated underpass in the Macarthur Maze, a knot of converging freeway ramps taking cars from the 24, 80, 580, 880, and 980 freeways and funneling them into the San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge toll plaza. The fuel exploded into flames and burned fiercely for several hours, but it only took minutes for the span above the flames to collapse and fall onto the span below. The director of Cal Trans, the California state transportation authority, said the heat from the fire had melted the steel girders and bolts that support the concrete roadway. He said "If you have that kind of heat, you're going to have this kind of reaction. We're not surprised this happened."

The massive I-beams built into the structure of the freeway overpasses are far thicker and heavier than the lightweight steel trusses supporting the floors of the World Trade Center. The speedy and graphic nature of this failure demonstrated once and for all how easy it is for heat to soften steel just enough to sag, and that little sag is all it takes for the structure to come apart and then it's Good Night Ladies. In Oakland, these giant beams didn't just sag: they squished like they were made of clay.

Happily, the freeway collapse did have a silver lining. Engineers everywhere breathed a sigh of relief, since this was such a major bitch-slap to the 9/11 conspiracy theorists. Now maybe those nutballs would shut up and go home, right? Maybe even take down their insulting web sites. But is that what happened? Don't bet on it. Remember how the logic of the conspiracy theorist works: Evidence against their theory is really evidence for the conspiracy. Within hours, conspiracy theorist blogs and web sites were charging that the government staged the Oakland freeway collapse in a transparent attempt to bolster the official version of the World Trade Center events.

Three basic arguments have been made alleging the conspiracy. First, it just seems consistent with what an evil government might do. But, like the majority of the 9/11 conspiracy "evidence", appearing consistent with one possibility in addition to others is hardly proof that that one possibility is the true one.

Second, this fire was outdoors, and not insulated within a building. For some reason the conspiracy guys have turned this one completely around, saying that an uncontained outdoor fire traps heat in better than an enclosed fire. This logic is a little too bizarre for this podcaster to attempt to address. This has nothing to do with oxygen availability, which was the only remotely intelligent extrapolation I could make from this, as the World Trade Center fires were fed not only by airliner sized holes in the side of the building, but also by millions of cubic yards of oxygen inside the buildings.

Finally, the conspiracy guys argue that of all the hundreds of thousands of freeway overpasses in the country, how could this accident just happen to occur at one of the busiest interchanges on the busiest bridge in one of the most traffic congested urban areas in the country? If you wanted to deliberately select the most disruptive and highly visible interchange in the country, this is quite possibly the exact one you'd choose. The two spans that were destroyed carry 160,000 cars a day. What are the chances that this is where such an accident would just happen to occur? Next to impossible. Clearly, this location had to be deliberately chosen. The only possible explanation is that the wreck was staged by the government.

It's kind of hard to argue against that kind of logic. So, I say, don't bother. People who are smart enough to know better, and educated enough to understand the physical sciences, and yet still believe the conspiracy theories, are beyond help. Don't waste your breath on them. And also, don't worry that their fantasies will eventually creep into the history books and infect your children, any more than you should worry that the schools will start teaching the Flat Earth theory. The conspiracy theories are false, so they're unprovable, and all the evidence will always be against them. They're never going to go away, and they're never going to shut up, and as offensive as their paranoid pipe dreams are to civilized people, they have every right to present them and argue their point of view. This is the lesson for your children. Show your children the facts of what happened, and explain why the terrorists did what they did — that's the easy part — and then expand the lesson to the importance of free speech. Better if your children first hear these conspiracy theories within the context of an example of protected free expression of an offensive idea.

Tip Skeptoid $2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

That way, your children will be better prepared to visit a blacksmith shop, and know when they're being lied to. ;)

Brian Dunning

© 2007 Skeptoid Media Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Aaronovitch, D. Voodoo Histories: the Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History. New York: Riverhead, 2010.

Hodapp, C., Von Kannon, A. Conspiracy Theories & Secret Societies For Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publications, Inc., 2008.

King, M. "Good Science and 9-11 Demolition Theories." Journal of Debunking 9/11. Journal of Debunking 9/11, 13 May 2007. Web. 18 Jan. 2010. <http://www.jod911.com/>

NIST. "National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Federal Building and Fire Safety Investigation of the World Trade Center Disaster." National Institute of Science and Technology. National Institute of Science and Technology, 30 Aug. 2006. Web. 5 Jul. 2007. <http://wtc.nist.gov/pubs/factsheets/faqs_8_2006.htm>

Reagan, B. Debunking 9/11 myths: Why conspiracy theories can't stand up to the facts. New York: Hearst Books, 2006.

The 9/11 Commission Report: National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. New York: Norton, 2004.

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "The Twin Towers: Fire Melting Steel." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 10 Jul 2007. Web. 5 Sep 2015. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4054>

Discuss!

10 most recent comments | Show all 480 comments

Brian good morning, yes your correct very little critical thinking is needed to rule out c.ddemolition of building 7. The slab that formed the roof collapsed. ( assuming it was a concrete roof ,though if not it doesn't. Invalidate this reasonable theory) Most videos because of the angle don't show the very large structure on the roof of building 7...when the roof collapsed under the weight of this structure, obviously causing the structure on the roof to fall straight down .The extreme wieght ,force and load caused each subsequent floor underneath to collapse adding even more weight, force and load to the slab underneath. The enormous amount and force and energy was enough to weeken then tear apart the structural steel components of the structure causing the building to collapse inward. The fire and heat caused the roof to fail..the collapsing of the roof is very apparent. Look at youtube video...9/11 wtc building 7 video compilation . At 4 minutes into the video it shows this to be true..The collapse starts from the top of the building. You can also see directly underneath as the building buckles ,the glass begins to break in these stressed areas first .

dave festa, florida
January 31, 2014 7:47am

Nicely done. Too bad this is preaching to the choir!

TC, Minot, Me
August 26, 2014 11:37pm

It is interesting to see that in late 2013 people here raise questions the BBC has answered long ago. In 2008 the BBC posted this (excerpt):

""On 11 September 2001 Reuters incorrectly reported that one of the buildings at the New York World Trade Center, 7WTC, had collapsed before it actually did. The report was picked up from a local news story and was withdrawn as soon as it emerged that the building had not fallen."

I put this to the writer and director of Loose Change, Dylan Avery. I asked whether he believed the BBC was part of the conspiracy. Given the question his film had posed about the BBC I was surprised by Dylan's response: "Of course not, that's ludicrous. Why would the BBC be part of it?"

He added candidly: "I didn't really want to put that line in the movie.""

Full story: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/legacy/theeditors/2008/07/controversy_conspiracies_iii.html

Thomas Kossatz, Hamburg, Germany
September 3, 2014 10:31pm

There doesn't seem to be any discussion so far on the 118 NYC firemen and first responders' testimonies that clearly described explosions at the WTC, accounts that were in the hands of the 9-11 Commission, but never aired in its report.

Excuses for what those professionals heard have been numerous and some may well be true, such as windows popping etc, but the 2007-2008 finding of traces of unexploded nanothermite in the WTC dust show that what those experienced fire-fighters heard was in fact what they thought they heard.

In the end, Science, a fundamental proof-function of Skeptoid, proved that explosives were present at the time of the WTC collapse.

Macky, Auckland
September 30, 2014 3:29pm

Outstanding analysis, but to be honest I liked other sceptic articles more on this site (as the plastic bottles, UFOs, chemtrails and homeopathy etc. because I think the conspiracies there are easy to dissmiss).....

This one is not so easy.... tho. I will only adress a few points:

"Today we're going to really put the Men in Black under the microscope. And by Men in Black, I mean blacksmiths. "

1. I know ur being ironic here, but that distracts from your sites worth, because neither the movie men in black nor blacksmiths have anything to do with the topic....
2. You can not compare the process of forming steel with hammers or other heavy forces with building fires. How do you come to that conclusion? Also the steel is HEATED not melted (obvisously if it was melted it could not be formed with hammers)....

"I have never seen melted steel in a building fire." But they conveniently omit the second half of his sentence: "But I've seen a lot of twisted, warped, bent and sagging steel."

Well he tells the truth, these fires cannot melt steel but weaken it seriously. Where is the conspiracy here ? Maybe it is as follows: IT WAS INDEED reported few days after the crime that the steel was melted by officials (fema?). However they quickly noted this was ludicrous and detracted the statement to "was weakened". Why came they up with an impossibility in the 1st place ? Looks to me to confuse people...

Thanks. Maybe I adress other points later :)

F, Westfalen
April 1, 2015 7:22am

For the towers to fall at free fall, would have had to melt the steel beams from top to bottom instantanianously and the concrete pulvurised into powder (concrete under failure breaks into chunks). There was evidence of a pool of liquid metal under the debris for a month after the collapse. Because failure in a building doesn't occure uniformly they do not fall in their own foot prints but usually side ways. Buildings are designed with a safety factor of more than one and there was no added weight to cause a collapse . After all most of the fire was around the 72 floor. Explain how there was concrete all over New York unless by an explosion of some sort.

Peter, Edmonton
April 28, 2015 1:33pm

The continued discussion on the 9-11 building collapses remains a source of interest among the supporters of the Official US Govt Story of 9-11, the conspiracy theorists, and those somewhere in between who are searching for answers to questions about the collapses that don't seem to fit in to the official explanations.

A major point about various investigations, theories or explanations re the collapses is that they are all supported by qualified engineers and architects even they may be opposed to one another.

While the building collapses are certainly pertinent to the overall story of 9-11, they can also unfortunately serve to distract from the main 9-11 question : Who were the real perpetrators of 9-11 ?

There is not a shred of evidence that is not US govt produced that the alleged 19 hijackers were the ones named in the ranting newspapers and the 9-11 Commission Report.

Nothing about those named 19 was ever proved, 4 of their names changed over the following days, some are still alive, at least one has been interviewed, and there was absolutely no DNA identification of the remains of those that have gone down in history as the hijackers.

There was in fact no outside evidence of any hijacking, two flights are recorded to date as never having occurred that day (11 and 77), at least one alleged aircraft was not deregistered until years later, and Fl93 was still airborne well after the time it was alleged to have crashed, as were 2 cellphone calls allegedly from Fl93.

Macky, Auckland
May 4, 2015 10:00pm

Skeptoid writes :

"Show your children the facts of what happened, and explain why the terrorists did what they did -- that's the easy part --...."

Of course it is. Tell them the US govt Official Story of 9-11, that 19 alleged Islamic terrorists sent by Al Qaeda and headed by Osama Bin Laden hijacked four commercial flights, then drove the aircraft into selected targets, supposedly achieving 75% of their goals that terrible day.

Tell your children that America and its allies went to war on the basis of those attacks, and are still at war fourteen years later.

Fill your children with yet another blinding example of American pseudo-history that they will swallow as gospel for the rest of their lives, unless they have the willingness to examine the US govt Official Story, and use the mandate for this site, critical analysis.

Then one day when they come back to you to ask how come more attacks were not attempted on the back of the terrorists' stunning successes, show them the US govt files that utterly contradict the Official Story at every level.

Then tell them that every war that America and its allies have been involved in since at least the beginning of the 20th century, including WW2, has been a jack-up by the Powers That Be to pursue their agenda, using the citizens of their countries as cannon-fodder, while they became richer from supplying both sides of the conflict.

Macky, Auckland
May 13, 2015 2:36pm

Thanks Brian you have absolutely convinced me that the 9/11 conspiracy was simply a myth.

Matthew36, Greenville Pennsylvania
August 14, 2015 12:02am

Correct. The 9-11 Official Story as put out by the US govt is the Mother Of All Conspiracy Theories.

Macky, Auckland
August 28, 2015 3:42pm

Make a comment about this episode of Skeptoid (please try to keep it brief & to the point).

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