According to NIST, fire alone caused the collapse of WTC-7.
NIST responded to Frequently Asked Questions, as follows:
22. Would WTC 7 have collapsed even if there had been no structural damage induced by the collapse of WTC 1?
Yes. Even without the structural damage, WTC 7 would have collapsed from the fires that the debris initiated. The growth and spread of the lower-floor fires due to the loss of water supply to the sprinklers from the city mains was enough to initiate the collapse of the entire building due to buckling of a critical column in the northeast region of the building.
21. Did debris from the collapse of WTC 1 cause damage to WTC 7's structure in a way that contributed to the building's collapse?
The debris from WTC 1 caused structural damage to the southwest region of WTC 7—severing seven exterior columns—but this structural damage did not initiate the collapse. The fires initiated by the debris, rather than the structural damage that resulted from the impacts, initiated the building's collapse
after the fires grew and spread to the northeast region after several hours. The debris impact caused no damage to the spray-applied fire-resistive material that was applied to the steel columns, girders, and beams except in the immediate vicinity of the severed columns. The debris impact damage did play a secondary role in the last stages of the collapse sequence, where the exterior façade buckled at the lower floors where the impact damage was located. A separate analysis showed that even without the structural damage due to debris impact, WTC 7 would have collapsed in fires similar to those that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001. None of the large pieces of debris from WTC 2 hit WTC 7 because of the large distance between the two buildings.
25. Did the electrical substation beneath WTC 7 play a role in the fires or collapse?
No. There is no evidence that the electric substation contributed to the fires in WTC 7. The electrical substation continued working until 4:33 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2001. Alarms at the substation were monitored, and there were no signals except for one event early in the day. No smoke was observed emanating from the substation.
Special elements of the building's construction—namely trusses, girders, and cantilever overhangs, which were used to transfer loads from the building superstructure to the columns of the electric substation (over which WTC 7 was constructed) and foundation below—also did not play a significant role in the collapse.
7. How did the collapse of WTC 7 differ from the collapses of WTC 1 and WTC 2?
WTC 7 was unlike the WTC towers in many respects. WTC 7 was a more typical tall building in the design of its structural system. It was not struck by an aircraft. The collapse of WTC 7 was caused by a single initiating event—the failure of a northeast building column brought on by fire-induced damage to the adjacent flooring system and connections—which stands in contrast to the WTC 1 and WTC 2 failures, which were brought on by multiple factors, including structural damage caused by the aircraft impact, extensive dislodgement of the sprayed fire-resistive materials or fireproofing in the impacted region, and a weakening of the steel structures created by the fires.
The fires in WTC 7 were quite different from the fires in the WTC towers. Since WTC 7 was not doused with thousands of gallons of jet fuel, large areas of any floor were not ignited simultaneously as they were in the WTC towers. Instead, separate fires in WTC 7 broke out on different floors, most notably on Floors 7 to 9 and 11 to 13. The WTC 7 fires were similar to building contents fires that have occurred in several tall buildings where the automatic sprinklers did not function or were not present.
8. Why did WTC 7 collapse, while no other known building in history has collapsed due to fires alone?
The collapse of WTC 7 is the first known instance of a tall building brought down primarily by uncontrolled fires.
The fires in WTC 7 were similar to those that have occurred in several tall buildings where the automatic sprinklers did not function or were not present. These other buildings, including Philadelphia's One Meridian Plaza, a 38-story skyscraper that burned for 18 hours in 1991, did not collapse due to differences in the design of the structural system (see the answer to Question 9).
Factors contributing to WTC 7's collapse included: the thermal expansion of building elements such as floor beams and girders, which occurred at temperatures hundreds of degrees below those typically considered in current practice for fire-resistance ratings; significant magnification of thermal expansion effects due to the long-span floors in the building; connections between structural elements that were designed to resist the vertical forces of gravity, not the thermally induced horizontal or lateral loads; and an overall structural system not designed to prevent fire-induced progressive collapse.