Deadly Lon­don high-rise fire raises ques­tions over safety.

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY GREGORY KATZ AND DAN­ICA KIRKA

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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

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.

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