The Grenfell Tower fire occurred on 14 June 2017, at the 24-storey Grenfell Tower, a block of public housing flats in the upmarket area of North Kensington, western London, England. The fire started shortly before 1 a.m. local time.
It is believed virtually all the residents in the top three floors of Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, West London, perished in the devastating fire, which burned at over 1,000C (1,800F).The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.
The death toll stood at 12 last night but was expected to rise. Eighteen people are in critical care after 79 injured people were taken to hospital. But many are still missing after residents were left trapped on upper floors as flames rapidly ripped up the block after initially being told to stay in their homes.
The inferno lit up the night sky and spewed black smoke from the windows of the Grenfell Tower in North Kensington. A plume of smoke stretched for miles across the sky after dawn, revealing the blackened, flame-licked wreckage of the building, which was still burning over 12 hours later.
A team of 250 fire fighters from forty five fire engines attempted to control the blaze and rescue people, the first responders arriving six minutes after the alarm, but the fire’s extreme temperature hindered rescue attempts.
At 04:14, officials from the Metropolitan Police addressed the large crowd of onlookers and urgently instructed them to contact anyone they knew who was trapped in the building, if they are able to reach them via phone or social media, to tell them they must try to self-evacuate and not wait for the fire brigade.
Firefighters entered the building to try to rescue people but reported they were hindered by the extreme heat.
Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton told reporters: “In my 29 years of being a firefighter I have never, ever seen anything of this scale.”
Following an explosion which took place in 2009 at Lakanal House in Camberwell, which claimed six lives and injured over 20, the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety & Rescue Group recommended a review into the situation in 2013.
“Our group recommended that due to the speed that the fire spread in Lakanal House, that building regulations should be reviewed. It’s nearly 11 years since it has been reviewed,” Ronnie King, group’s honorary administrative secretary said, adding that over 4,000 building had no fire sprinklers fitted.
Built in the 1970s, the housing block was recently upgraded at a cost of 10 million pounds ($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.”
The 24-storey Grenfell Tower was designed in 1967, with Kensington & Chelsea Council approving its construction in 1970 as part of phase one of the Lancaster West redevelopment project.
Contractors AE Symes, of Leyton, London commenced construction in 1972 with the building completed in 1974. It was built under the council housing system. It contained 120 one- and two-bedroom flats (six apartments per floor on twenty of the twenty-four stories, with the other four being used for non-residential purposes) and was renovated in 2015–16.
The tower is managed by Kensington and Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), the largest tenant management organisation (TMO) in England, on behalf of Kensington & Chelsea Council.
The TMO has a board comprising eight residents, four Council-appointed members, and three independent members. The building was an isolated public housing accommodation in a locality of otherwise high end real estate.
Plans for a “regeneration project” for the tower were publicised in 2012. The £10 million refurbishment, undertaken by Rydon Ltd, was completed in 2016. As part of the project, in 2015–2016, the concrete structure received new windows and new aluminium composite cladding (Arconic Reynobond and Reynolux material) with thermal insulation.
The work was carried out by Harley Facades of Crowborough, East Sussex ,at a cost of £2.6 million.
In the hours following the fire, one of the companies involved in the refurbishment, ventilation company WITT UK, removed all references to the refurbishment from its website.
There were a significant number of comments that the new cladding around the building, which had been added for insulation and cosmetic purposes, had contributed to the speed at which the fire spread.
Fire safety experts have speculated that the building’s new external cladding was a possible cause of the rapid spread of the fire. Experts said the cladding essentially worked like a chimney in spreading the fire.
The cladding could be seen burning and melting, causing additional speculation that it was not made of fire resistant material. One resident said, “The whole one side of the building was on fire. The cladding went up like a matchstick.
Records show that a contractor installed “over-cladding with ACM cassette rain-screen” during the recent refurbishment at Grenfell Tower. The ACM stands for aluminium composite material the combustibility of which depends on the choice of insulation core material.
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.
Authorities will “seek to identify towers that might have a similar process of refurbishment, run a system of checks so that we can, as quickly as possible, give reassurance to people,” said Policing and Fire Minister Nick Hurd.
The Grenfell tenants’ organization’s newsletter instructs residents to stay put in a fire unless the blaze is in their own apartment or in their hallway ,the same guidance used in multi storey hotels and other high-rise buildings. The organization’s July 2014 newsletter said Grenfell “was designed according to rigorous fire safety standards.”
The residents’ organisation, Grenfell Action Group, had repeatedly warned of major fire safety lapses since 2013. The group warned in November 2016 that only a “catastrophic” fire would finally force the block’s management to treat fire precautions and maintenance of fire-related systems to a proper standard.
“All our warnings fell on deaf ears and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time,” the group said after the fire broke out
Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life in Grenfell Tower and is being kept constantly updated on the situation.” She has called for a cross-government meeting, chaired by Nick Hurd, the new Police and Fire Minister, and a meeting with the Civil Contingencies Secretariat.
Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, told sources that he wanted answers about the fire safety condition at Grenfell Tower, and criticised the official “stay put” policy. “Thankfully residents didn’t take that advice but fled,” he said. “These are some of the questions that have to be answered. We have lots of people in London living in tower blocks… We can’t have people’s lives being put at risk because of bad advice or lack of maintenance.
Khan also praised the first responders on the scene, “I want to thank our incredible firefighters and emergency services for their immense courage, dedication and professionalism.