Deadly London high-rise fire raises questions over safety.
LONDON | They banged on windows, screamed for help, dropped children from smoky floors in a desperate attempt to save them. Terrified residents of the Grenfell Tower said there was little warning of the inferno that engulfed their high-rise apartment building and left 12 people dead — a toll that officials said would almost certainly rise.
The blaze early Wednesday in the 24-story building in west London’s North Kensington district also injured 74 others, 18 of them critically, and left an unknown number missing. A tenants’ group had complained for years about the risk of a fire.
More than 200 firefighters worked through the night and were still finding pockets of fire inside later in the day. A huge plume of smoke wafted across the London skyline and left a burned-out hulk in the working class, multi-ethnic neighborhood.
“In my 29 years of being a firefighter, I have never, ever seen anything of this scale,” Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said.
Up to 600 people lived in 120 apartments in the Grenfell Tower. After announcing the updated death toll of 12 in the afternoon, Cmdr. Stuart Cundy said that “we believe this number will sadly increase.” Crews rescued 65 people, said Steve Apter, the fire brigade’s director of safety and assurance.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said she was “deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life” in the fire.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said many questions must be answered about safety for the scores of other apartment blocks around the British capital.
The London Fire Brigade said it received the first reports of the blaze at 12:54 a.m. and the first engines arrived within six minutes.
Survivors told of frantic attempts to escape during the nighttime fire. Some initially feared it was terrorism-related, although authorities have not suggested that terrorism was involved.
“The flames, I have never seen anything like it. It just reminded me of 9/11,” said Muna Ali, 45. “The fire started on the upper floors. … Oh my goodness, it spread so quickly. It had completely spread within a half-hour.”
Edward Daffarn, who lived on the 16th floor, said the building’s fire alarm didn’t ring. He said residents had complained for years to Kensington and Chelsea Council about the building’s safety, to no avail.
“I’m lucky to be alive. A neighbor’s smoke alarm went off and another neighbor phoned and told me to get out,” Mr. Daffarn said. “I consider this mass murder.”
There was no immediate word on the cause of the blaze, but the Grenfell Action Group has been warning about the risk of fire at Grenfell Tower since 2013.
The group expressed concern about the testing and maintenance of firefighting equipment and blocked emergency access to the site. In a Nov. 20 blog, the group predicted that only “a catastrophic event” leading to “serious loss of life” would bring the outside scrutiny needed to make conditions safe for residents.
“All our warnings fell on deaf ears and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable,” the group said after the fire broke out.
The Kensington and Chelsea Council, which oversees the area where the fire occurred, said in a statement its immediate focus was helping victims and their families. It said the cause of the blaze would be “fully investigated.”
Built in the 1970s, the housing block was recently upgraded at a cost of $12.8 million, with work finishing in May 2016, according to the local council. Rydon, the British company that did the refurbishing, said in a statement that its work “met all required building control, fire regulation and health and safety standards.”
Britain’s government ordered checks at tower blocks going through similar refurbishment amid concerns that renovations at the Grenfell Tower contributed to the spread of the blaze. It was not immediately known if the building had a sprinkler system.
Firefighters fought through the night to extinguish a blaze that engulfed a 24-story apartment building in west London. Police say there were 12 fatalities and more than 70 others injured in the fire, which has raised new questions about building safety.
Smoke and flames could be seen for miles from the site of the apartment building fire that raged in west London.