Surviving residents demand answers in London high-rise blaze fatal to at least 12 after £10 million renovation
June 15, 2017
With smoke still swirling around the charred remains of Grenfell Tower in west London, residents and community leaders demanded to know Wednesday how a ferocious fire could have swept through the high-rise apartment block with such speed that it killed at least 12 people.
The anger was particularly strong since activists had warned just seven months ago that fire safety procedures were so lax that only a catastrophic blaze would bring the scrutiny needed to make the building safe.
Fire and police officials have not specified what went wrong, but extensive video footage shows the flames climbing the exterior of the building at a remarkable pace.
“I’ve never seen a fire like that in my life,” said Joe Ruane, the former deputy chief fire officer for U.S. Air Force bases in Britain. “I’ve never seen that in a residential block.”
The 24-story public housing complex is owned by the local government council in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea and was completed in the 1970s. It is managed by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization, which spent £10 million ($12.8 million) refurbishing the building over the last two years.
The renovation project included installation of insulated exterior cladding, double-glazed windows and a communal heating system. Investigators need to look at what materials were used in the project and who approved their use, Ruane said. But he said the speed with which the fire spread suggests that more than one fire protection safeguard failed.
“It’s not just one thing,” Ruane said. “It’s multiple issues.”
Some residents suggested that Grenfell Tower’s policies were to blame for the disaster.
A newsletter put out by the building’s tenant organization told tenants to follow a “stay put” policy and remain in their apartments during a fire unless the blaze was inside their apartment or in their hallway or until they were told to evacuate by officials.
This policy is in place “because Grenfell was designed according to rigorous fire-safety standards,” according to the 2014 newsletter about the renovation project. New front doors in each apartment could withstand a fire for up to 30 minutes, “which gives plenty of time for the fire brigade to arrive,” the newsletter said.
That policy, often followed in high-rise hotels, may be effective in lesser fires. In this case, however, the fire seemed to climb the exterior of the tower so quickly that it overwhelmed protective systems like fire doors. People who initially remained in place may have been unable to escape later because the hallways and fire escapes were filled with heavy smoke and flames.
The London Fire Brigade said crews were on the scene within six minutes of the first reports of the fire, but they were unable to reach people on higher floors to prevent fatalities.
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