One year later, Britain recalls Grenfell Tower inferno that killed 72
LONDON – A nationwide silence across the United Kingdom on Thursday will mark the first anniversary of the deadliest tragedy the country’s capital has encountered since World War II.
Seventy-two people died after a ferocious blaze broke out at Grenfell Tower, a high-rise apartment block, on the night of June 14, 2017. Sheila Smith, an 84-year-old great-grandmother, and a stillborn baby named Logan were among those killed.
A public inquiry into the tragedy began in May and is expected to last about 18 months.
The fire caused property owners and fire inspectors in the U.K. and numerous other countries to check the cladding on their buildings to determine whether they need to be replaced. In Britain, some building owners have yet to remove combustible cladding, leading authorities to threaten to force them to take action.
In most of the U.S., aluminum panels like those on Grenfell are not used on high-rises because of fire safety concerns. In the U.K., flammable building materials must pass tests if they are to be used on high-rises.
Amid the grief that has resonated through the country for the past 12 months, many residents are working to ensure some good emerges from the horrors of that fateful night.
Toby Laurent Belson is working with Green for Grenfell, a campaign started by local schools in North Kensington — the area in west London where Grenfell Tower stands — to ensure the tragedy is never forgotten. A green heart has become a symbol of remembrance of the incident.
Belson, 41, has been fundraising to illuminate Grenfell Tower and 12 nearby high-rises from Thursday through Sunday. The community artist said a couple of his friends escaped the fire a year ago, but one young friend died.
“It’s quite some blessing that through such horror, people in the community have something like this,” Belson said.
“Because (the disaster) is a political issue, it’s great people have a space where they don’t have to get political. They can leave that behind,” he added.
The anniversary comes days after Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May expressed regret for not meeting with the survivors when she visited the scene of the blaze soon after the fire.
The Kensington and Chelsea Council, which owns Grenfell Tower, was criticized for being slow and disorganized in helping the survivors after the blaze – most of them working class and from ethnic minorities – prompting the federal government to take over the response. There are questions over whether Kensington and Chelsea Council contributed to the deaths by installing the flammable cladding to improve the appearance of the austere building, rather than fire-resistant cladding, to save money.
Some former residents are still living in temporary accommodations.
Tributes to the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire are displayed in London on Wednesday, the eve of the first anniversary of the blaze.