Fires break out in two tower blocks on day of Grenfell Tower memo­rial

The Guardian - - NEWS - ▲ Matthew Weaver

Two sep­a­rate fires broke out in high­rise residential blocks in Lon­don and Glas­gow yes­ter­day, on the morn­ing of the first an­niver­sary of the Grenfell Tower fire.

Eight peo­ple were treated for smoke in­hala­tion after a fire in a kitchen in a 14th-floor flat at Com­mer­cial Court, in the Gor­bals area of Glas­gow. Video from a res­i­dent, Stacey Holmes, showed thick black smoke bil­low­ing from a few floors above her flat. A neigh­bour who was trapped in the flat at the time of the video was later res­cued.

Holmes, a 27-year-old rap­per who runs a record la­bel, said she shouted at her 92-year-old neigh­bour to stay in her flat. “She was wav­ing a sheet try­ing to alert peo­ple to where she was. When I saw her af­ter­wards she was in shock; all the res­i­dents are in shock,” she said. “When I found out to­day was the an­niver­sary of Grenfell I was shocked even more, it went through my core.”

Alan Fair­bairn, the area man­ager of the Scot­tish fire and res­cue ser­vice, said the blaze was con­tained within an hour and eight of those res­cued were taken to Queen El­iz­a­beth Univer­sity hospi­tal, Glas­gow.

Fraser Ste­wart, the direc­tor of New Gor­bals hous­ing as­so­ci­a­tion, which runs the block, said about 30 homes were evac­u­ated. “This ended up be­ing a rou­tine in­ci­dent but the tim­ing was a hellish co­in­ci­dence. You get fires up high-rise blocks. This was one of the worst but it was con­tained. There are dif­fer­ent build­ing reg­u­la­tions up here. We don’t have flammable cladding in any so­cial hous­ing.”

Hours ear­lier, about 180 peo­ple fled their homes and nearly 60 fire­fight­ers and eight fire en­gines were sent to tackle a blaze that broke out on the 12th floor of the block in Elmira Street, Lewisham, south Lon­don at 4.14am. A sprin­kler sys­tem, a safety fea­ture not in­stalled at Grenfell, was able to sup­press the fire. Lon­don fire bri­gade de­clared the blaze un­der con­trol at 6.02am.

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 res­i­dents had ig­nored a “stay-put” pol­icy 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 stay-put 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.

Cheuk said the block was built about four years ago by Bar­ratt Homes. He and his girl­friend were al­lowed back into their rented one-bed­room 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.

The emer­gency ser­vices at the scene of the blaze in Glas­gow yes­ter­day

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