Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Grenfell Tower Fire

The Grenfell Tower fire occurred on 14 June 2017, at the 24-storey Grenfell Tower, a block of public housing flats in the upmarket area of North Kensington, western London, England. The fire started shortly before 1 a.m. local time.

                                   The fire at 4:43am local time

Hundreds of firefighters and 45 fire engines were involved in efforts to control the fire. Firefighters were trying to control pockets of fire on the higher floors after most of the rest of the building had been gutted. Residents of surrounding buildings were evacuated out of concerns that the tower could collapse, though the building was later determined to still be structurally sound.

There could have been up to 600 people in the 120 one- and two-bedroom flats of the block at the time of the fire. By the afternoon of 14 June, twelve had been confirmed dead, with more fatalities expected to be reported; police spoke of "around 200 residents and a lot unaccounted for". Sixty-five were rescued by firefighters. Seventy-four people were confirmed to be in five hospitals across London, twenty of whom were in a critical condition. Ongoing fires on the upper floors and fears of structural collapse hindered the search and recovery effort.

The cause of the fire is not yet known. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said there were "questions that have to be answered" about the fire safety conditions at the Grenfell Tower. Khan criticised the safety instructions telling people to stay in their flats in particular: "We can't have people's lives being put at risk because of bad advice or lack of maintenance." The residents' organisation, Grenfell Action Group, had repeatedly warned of major fire safety lapses since 2013. The group warned in November 2016 that only a "catastrophic" fire would finally force the block's management to treat fire precautions and maintenance of fire-related systems to a proper standard

Description of the Fire

Fire broke out in the 24-storey Grenfell Tower block of flats on the Lancaster West Estate in North Kensington, western London early in the morning of 14 June 2017; the London Fire Brigade were first called to the fire at 00:54 BST (UTC+1). The fire reportedly began on the second floor but spread at a "terrifying rate" upward and to the other side of the building. A team of 250 firefighters from forty fire engines attempted to control the blaze and rescue people, the first responders arriving six minutes after the alarm, but the fire's extreme temperature hindered rescue attempts. At 04:14, officials from the Metropolitan Police addressed the large crowd of onlookers and urgently instructed them to contact anyone they knew who was trapped in the building—if they are able to reach them via phone or social media—to tell them they must try to self-evacuate and not wait for the fire brigade. Firefighters entered the building to try to rescue people but reported they were hindered by the extreme heat.

According to witnesses, there were people trapped inside, waving from windows for help, some holding children. There were two witness accounts of parents dropping their children down to people below, including a baby who was caught after being thrown from the ninth or tenth floor, and a small boy thrown from the fifth or sixth floor. There were also eyewitness reports that some people were jumping out. At least one person used knotted blankets to make a rope and escape from the burning building. Frequent explosions that were reported to be from gas lines in the building were heard.

After three hours, the original crew of firefighters were replaced by a new crew. By sunrise, the firefighters were still battling the fire and trying to spray areas where people were seen trapped. The watching crowd were pushed back from the building because of falling debris. At 05:00, the building was still burning and severely damaged. Assistant fire commissioner Dan Daly said, "Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus are working extremely hard in very difficult conditions to tackle this fire. This is a large and very serious incident and we have deployed numerous resources and specialist appliances."

The fire continued to burn on the tower's upper floors into the afternoon of 14 June. Firefighters were expecting to continue tackling the blaze for at least a further 24 hours. Although fears were expressed that the building could collapse, structural engineers determined that it was not in danger and that rescue teams could enter it to search for survivors and casualties.

Cause of the Fire

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined. Several media outlets reported that it may have been caused by a faulty appliance. A fourth-floor resident told the media that it was his neighbour's refrigerator that caught fire around 1:00 am, and that they immediately began knocking on doors to alert people. He said that within half an hour the building was entirely engulfed in flames.

While there was much criticism of the lack of sprinkler systems, Geoff Wilkinson, the building regulations columnist for the Architects' Journal, wrote in a comment on 14 June, before the cause was known ("we should avoid speculating"), that if a leaking gas riser or the cladding were at fault, sprinklers would have had little effect. He said he had seen extracts of a fire risk assessment and talk of combustible material stored in the common walkways, suggesting poor overall management.

Criticism of the Building and of Management

Some residents said no fire alarms went off when the fire started. Residents said they were alerted to the fire only by people screaming for help or knocks on the door and not by a fire alarm. Others reported that they survived by ignoring the council's "stay put" policy, its directive instructing residents to remain in their flat in case of fire.

The London-wide Radical Housing Network, a citizens' action "group of groups... fighting for housing justice across London" of which the Grenfell Action Group is a member, said that the fire was "a horrific, preventable tragedy" that was the result of a "combination of government cuts, local authority mismanagement, and sheer contempt for council tenants and the homes they live in".

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