Fires erupt in Lon­don and Glas­gow tower blocks one year af­ter Gren­fell

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines - Matthew Weaver

Two sep­a­rate fires erupted in high­rise res­i­den­tial blocks in Lon­don and Glas­gow on the morn­ing of com­mem­o­ra­tions to mark the first an­niver­sary of the Gren­fell Tower fire.

About 180 peo­ple fled their homes and nearly 60 fire­fight­ers and eight fire en­gines were sent to tackle the first blaze, which broke out on the 12th floor of the block in Elmira Street, Lewisham, at 4.14am.

A sprin­kler sys­tem, a safety fea­ture that was not in­stalled at Gren­fell, was able to sup­press the fire. Lon­don fire bri­gade de­clared the blaze un­der con­trol at 6.02am.

Within two hours, emer­gency ser­vices in Glas­gow at­tended a fire in a high-rise in the Gor­bals area of the city. Video shows thick black smoke bil­low­ing from the 14th floor of the block on Com­mer­cial Road.

The Scot­tish fire and res­cue ser­vice was alerted at 7.58am. A spokesman said: “Oper­a­tions con­trol mo­bilised a num­ber of re­sources to the scene at Com­mer­cial Court, where a fire has taken hold within the kitchen of a 14th floor prop­erty.

Scot­land’s first min­is­ter, Ni­cola Stur­geon, who is also the MSP for the area, said she was re­ceiv­ing reg­u­lar up­dates from the fire ser­vice and the land­lord of the block, New Gor­bals hous­ing as­so­ci­a­tion.

The Glas­gow city coun­cil leader, Su­san Aitken, tweeted that five peo­ple had been res­cued and the fire was quickly con­tained.

In Lewisham, res­i­dents com­plained about the lack of fire alarms. Nick Cheuk, a 27-year-old struc­tural en­gi­neer who lives on the 19th floor with his girl­friend, said most of the res­i­dents ig­nored a “stay-put” pol­icy in the block when they awoke to news of the fire.

He told the Guardian: “I had the win­dows open and we didn’t hear any alarms go off. A fella from the block op­po­site was shout­ing ‘fire’ and that woke me up.

“I looked out­side our bal­cony and could see the smoke. From there we just evac­u­ated and I knocked on all of the neighbours doors on our floor and then ran down the stairs.

“Given that a year to­day was Gren­fell, the first thing I thought was to just get out. That was in the back of ev­ery­one’s mind. There is a stay­put pol­icy. Not ev­ery­one left, there was a fella on our floor who lit­er­ally slept through the whole thing. The fire was con­tained in the flat, so in this case the stay-put pol­icy worked.”

Video by Cheuk showed the or­ange glow of flames and black smoke spew­ing from a flat on the 13th floor.

Cheuk said the block was built about four years ago by Bar­ratt Homes. He and his girl­friend were al­lowed back into their rented onebed­room flat at 7.30am.

“The po­lice said the fire was com­pletely con­tained and there was about 25% fire dam­age in the flat it­self,” he said.

Christoph Mayr, a 32-year-old opera singer man­ager who lives on the 19th floor with his girl­friend, said: “We’d been talk­ing about Gren­fell last night. We were think­ing about how ir­re­spon­si­bly that build­ing had been main­tained and how hor­ri­ble for the peo­ple.

“And then you wake up in the mid­dle of the night and think this must have been what it was like, wak­ing up be­cause peo­ple were scream­ing. When we opened the door you could im­me­di­ately feel that the tem­per­a­ture was higher.”

Mayr added: “When we moved in we thought: do we re­ally want to live on a high floor in case a fire hap­pens? But we thought it would be OK be­cause it’s a mod­ern build­ing, open in 2015, with sprin­klers and alarms.

“As we were go­ing down and there were no alarms, we were think­ing what else isn’t work­ing? I’m an­gry with the peo­ple who built the block and man­ag­ing it.”

Mayr called for a re­view of fire safety in the block: “I def­i­nitely want a proper in­ves­ti­ga­tion of what was go­ing on and why the alarms didn’t work. They need to re­visit what tests and pro­ce­dures they’ve got in place. I want to be sat­is­fied that some­thing is go­ing to change.

Caleb Parker, a 40-year-old en­tre­pre­neur who lives on the 10th floor, also said ques­tions should be asked about the lack of fire alarms. “There is con­sis­tent con­cern from every­body that I talked to about the lack of alarms. I’ve spo­ken to sev­eral neighbours and no­body heard a fire alarm,” he said.

“One guy on the 16th floor said he was wo­ken by the smell of smoke. Ev­ery build­ing should re­view fire alarms in light of last year and now this. There is needs to be ques­tioned asked.”

He added: “Around 4.20am I was awo­ken by some­one bang­ing on my door, and I heard other peo­ple yelling ‘fire get out’. So I turned to my wife and said ‘get up, let’s go’.”

There were no re­ports of in­juries and the cause of the fire was be­ing in­ves­ti­gated.

Crews from Lee Green, Dept­ford, New Cross, For­est Hill and Lewisham were among those sent to tackle the blaze, the Lon­don fire bri­gade said.

Pic­tures from the scene posted by the Lon­don am­bu­lance ser­vice showed emer­gency ve­hi­cles out­side the block.

The bri­gade’s 999 con­trol of­fi­cers took 16 calls about the fire.

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