Grenfell Tower fire

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Grenfell Tower burning shortly after 4am, the morning after

The Grenfell Tower fire started shortly before 1am BST on 14 June 2017 in a tall building or tower block, Grenfell Tower, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, West London, England. Grenfell Tower was built in 1974, and was used for housing people. The flats in the building were subsidized: meaning the government paid part or all of the rent of the people who lived there.

Fire[change | change source]

In the early hours of 14 June, 2017, a fire broke out in the building, which caused massive damage to nearly all of the building. The fire broke out around the 4th floor of the 23 floor building. It was signalled to police at 0:54 local time. The fire brigade took 6 minutes to get to the tower. In total, 70 fire engines, and more than 200 firefighters were trying to put out the fire. On the 14th of June, at the end of the day, the number of people injured (and taken to hospitals) was about eighty, about 20 were in a critical condition. About 72 people died in the fire.[1] There could have been up to 600 people in the 120 one- and two-bedroom flats of the block at the time of the fire.[2][3][4] The number of people that were in the building when the fire broke out is unknown; police have estimated around 200.[2]

The fire started around 00:50 BST (UTC+1), when a fridge caught fire in flat 16 on 4th floor. Firefighters arrived around 1am, and put out the fire in the flat within minutes. When the crew were leaving the building, they spotted flames rising up the outside of the building.[5][6] Images later presented to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry suggested that the fire may have reached the outside before the firefighters had begun to tackle the initial fire in flat 16.[7] The flames spread up the side at a "terrifying rate",[8] By 01:29, a rising column of flames had reached the roof[7] and the fire was out of control.[9]

Many people believe this rapid spread was due to the outside of the building, which had been changed recently. This cladding seemed to contain highly flammable material.[10][11] Many residents complained about poor fire safety and other problems with the building, which was managed on behalf of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The residents' organisation, Grenfell Action Group, had repeatedly warned of major fire safety problems since 2013, and also noted past fires and fire-related incidents in similar blocks managed by the same company, which they felt were related to poor fire safeguards and management company fire policies.[12] One of these policies told residents to stay in their flats in case of fire. 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.[1][12]

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said there were "questions that have to be answered" about the fire-safety conditions at the Grenfell Tower. Khan criticised the safety instructions telling people to stay in their flats in particular: "We can't have people's lives being put at risk because of bad advice or lack of maintenance."[13] The advice of staying in the flat assumes that firefighters can contain the fire inside the building, which is impossible if it is spreading rapidly via its outside.[14] The advice may have proved fatal to many people.

Extinguishing the fire[change | change source]

Grenfell Tower burning, in the morning after the fire started. The firefighters are attempting to put it out.

A team of 250 firefighters from forty fire engines attempted to control the fire and rescue people. The first emergency services arrived six minutes after the alarm, but the fire's very high temperature slowed rescue attempts. At 04:14, officials from the Metropolitan Police addressed the large crowd of onlookers and urgently told 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.[15] Firefighters entered the building to try to rescue people but reported they were hindered by the extreme heat.[3][16] According to witnesses, there were people trapped inside, waving from windows for help, some holding children. There were two witness accounts of parents dropping their children down to people below, including a baby who was caught after being thrown from the ninth or tenth floor, and a small boy thrown from the fifth or sixth floor.[17] There were also eyewitness reports that some people were jumping out.[2] At least one person used knotted blankets to make a rope and escape from the burning building.[18] Frequent explosions that were reported to be from gas lines in the building were heard.[3] Many residents of the tower were Muslims. Because of Ramadan, many were awake at the late hour. Many were able to alert residents and help them escape during the early stages of the fire, which saved many lives. For this, they were hailed as heroes.[19][20][21]

After three hours, the original crew of firefighters were replaced. By sunrise, the firefighters were still battling the fire and trying to spray areas where people were seen trapped. The watching crowd were pushed back from the building because of falling debris. At 05:00, the building was still burning and severely damaged.[2][15] The fire continued to burn on the tower's upper floors into the afternoon of 14 June. Firefighters were expecting to continue tackling the blaze for at least a further 24 hours.[22] Although fears were expressed that the building could collapse, structural engineers determined that it was not in danger and that rescue teams could enter it to search for survivors, casualties and bodies.[3]

Cause[change | change source]

In the morning the smoke plume was still visible over a long distance. (Grenfell Tower is the building behind, Frinstead House is in front).

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.[23] Several media outlets reported that it may have been caused by a faulty kitchen appliance. A fourth-floor resident told the media that it was his neighbour's fridge that caught fire around 1:00 am, and that they immediately began knocking on doors to alert people.[24] He said that within half an hour the building was entirely engulfed in flames.[16]

Whilst there was much criticism of the lack of fire sprinkler systems, Geoff Wilkinson, the building regulations columnist for the Architects' Journal, wrote in a comment on 14 June, before the cause was known ("we should avoid speculating"), that if a leaking gas riser or the cladding were at fault, sprinklers would have had little effect. He said he had seen extracts of a fire risk assessment and talk of flammable material stored in the common walkways, suggesting poor overall management.[25]

Problems[change | change source]

Poorly maintained[change | change source]

Grenfell Tower, before renovations, in 2009

The inhabitants of the building organised the Grenfell Action Group, years ago. They regularly pointed out problems with the building. In 2013, they published part of a report, where they showed that the protection against fire was insufficient in the building. Regulations require that these materials are checked regularly. According to the 2013 report of action group, there had been no such checks in the three years before the report.[26]

When a building is on fire, people need to be able to get out quickly. Usually, there are specially signalled escape lanes for this. The action group pointed out that the escape lanes were not free, and people often parked their cars in such a way that the police was unable to get close to the building.

There had been various repairs and renovations in the building, from 2014 to 2016. The company who was responsible for these works said that they were shocked, at what had happened, and that at the time the works had been done, regulations had been met.

Materials on the outside of the building may have helped the fire spread[change | change source]

A sample of a sandwich panel. Similar panels are often used for the outside of buildings. If the part between the two layers (shown white here, and usually much smaller) has a low fire resistance, this will create a chimney effect which helps the spread of the fire.

When the building was renovated, the materials used for the outside of the building were changed. Fire safety experts have speculated that this new material was a possible cause of the rapid spread of the fire.[11] They said it essentially worked like a chimney in spreading the fire.[27] The material could be seen burning and melting, causing additional speculation that it was not fire resistant.[16] One resident said, "The whole one side of the building was on fire. The cladding went up like a matchstick."[28]

Records show that a contractor installed "over-cladding with ACM cassette rain screen" during the recent refurbishment at Grenfell Tower. The term ACM stands for aluminium composite material. With this kind of material, the choice of insulation core material determines how easily it can be burned.[29] Several tower building fires have involved the same external materials, including the 2009 Lakanal House fire in Camberwell, London, the 2009 Beijing Television Cultural Center fire and the 2015 fire at The Marina Torch, Dubai.[29] Sam Webb, the architect who investigated the Lakanal fire and who sits on the All Party Parliamentary Fire Safety & Rescue Group, said "This tragedy was entirely predictable, sadly."[30]

The product used was Reynobond, which is available with different types of core material—polyethylene, as reportedly used in Grenfell Tower (Reynobond PE), or a more fire-resistant material (Reynobond FR).[31][32] The Reynobond cladding reportedly cost £24 per square metre for the fireproof versions, and £22 for the flammable version.[32] According to the BBC, the more fire-resistant version (Reynobond FR) is a very new product, and it is unclear whether it was available at the time the building was being clad.[33]

According to the US-based manufacturer of Reynobond, the polyethylene version of the material is banned in the United States for use in buildings exceeding 40 feet (12 m) in height, because of the risk of spreading fire and smoke.[34] The refurbishment also used an insulation foam product named Celotex RS5000, installed behind the cladding.[35] According to its datasheet, the polyisocyanurate product—charred pieces of which littered the area around Grenfell Tower after the fire—"will burn if exposed to a fire of sufficient heat and intensity".[31][36] The cladding at Grenfell seems to have been used to decorate other apartment blocks. People are concerned that the affected buildings may face the same problems.[37]

Some residents had reported concern that the new cladding on the building was fixed onto it with wooden battens.[38] There is widespread concern amongst residents and fire safety experts about the increasing use of timber, even in high-rise buildings, following a change to building regulations.[39][40] It was reported that one reason for the new cladding was to improve the view for people living in the surrounding area.[41]

Automatic fire alarm system may have failed[change | change source]

Some residents said no fire alarms went off when the fire started.[2][24] Residents said they were alerted to the fire only by people screaming for help or knocks on the door and not by a fire alarm.[24] Others reported that they survived by ignoring the council's "stay put" policy, its directive instructing residents to remain in their flat in case of fire.[3]

The London-wide Radical Housing Network, a citizens' action "group of groups... fighting for housing justice across London"[42] of which the Grenfell Action Group is a member, said that the fire was "a horrific, preventable tragedy" that was the result of a "combination of government cuts, local authority mismanagement, and sheer contempt for council tenants and the homes they live in".[2]

Community response[change | change source]

People in the immediate area and from across London rallied to assist victims of the fire. Donations of food, water, toys, and clothes were made.[43] Saint Clement Church on Treadgold Street and St James' Church, Norlands, in the Deanery of Kensington, provided shelter for people evacuated from their homes,[2] as did nearby mosques and temples.[44]

Nearby Queens Park Rangers Football Club have offered their Loftus Road venue as a relief centre and are accepting donations of food, drink and clothing from the local community, and other nearby football clubs Brentford and Fulham have offered their stadiums as relief centres.[45]

View from south-east London at 7 am BST on 14 June 2017 when the smoke trail was visible across much of London and stretched for several miles eastwards.

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 KCTMO – Playing with fire! Blog entry of the action group, predicting thefire.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Hunt, Elle (13 June 2017). "London fire: fears of people trapped as major blaze engulfs tower block – latest". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 June 2017. Live coverage, frequently updated.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 "London fire: Six killed as Grenfell Tower engulfed". BBC News. 14 June 2017. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  4. Telegraph Reporters (14 June 2017). "Grenfell Tower floorplan shows how 120 flats were packed into highrise". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 14 June 2017. The “Typical residential floor in Grenfell Tower” diagram shows 4 two-bedroom and 2 one-bedroom flats.
  5. "Four ministers were warned about tower block fire risks". BBC News. 19 June 2017. Archived from the original on 19 June 2017. Retrieved 20 June 2017.
  6. Bulman, May (16 June 2017). "Grenfell Tower graphic: what we know about how the fire spread". The Independent. Independent Print. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Grenfell inquiry video shows speed at which fire spread to cladding". The Guardian. 4 June 2018. Retrieved 5 June 2018.
  8. Millward, David (14 June 2017). "'The whole building has gone': Witnesses describe screams and tears at Grenfell Tower fire in London". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 14 June 2017. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  9. Sweeney, John (7 July 2017). "Grenfell firefighters 'hampered by equipment'". BBC. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  10. Arconic Architectural Products/Arconic Inc. "Reynobond Europe ACM ACP Aluminium Composite Material". arconic.com. Retrieved 15 June 2017. Reynobond aluminium composite panels is a aluminium panel consisting of two coil-coated aluminium sheets that are fusion bonded to both sides of a polyethylene core.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Watson, Leon (14 June 2017). "Did faulty fridge cause Grenfell Tower fire? The theories fire chiefs will examine". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Wahlquist, Calla (14 June 2017). "Fire safety concerns raised by Grenfell Tower residents in 2012". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  13. Pasha-Robinson, Lucy (14 June 2017). "Residents inside 24-storey London flats on fire were told to stay inside in case of blaze". The Independent. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  14. Dixon, Hayley; Swinford, Steven; Knapton, Sarah; Mendick, Robert (14 June 2017). "Grenfell Tower inferno a 'disaster waiting to happen' as concerns are raised for safety of other buildings". The Telegraph. Retrieved 15 June 2017. Many of those that survived only did so by ignoring official advice to stay in their rooms and close their front doors until the fire was over. ... All fire safety regulations are focused on containing a fire within a building, but this cannot happen if it is spreading along the outside.
  15. 15.0 15.1 "Firefighters battle huge blaze in London". News.com.au. 14 June 2017. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 "Sky News – Live". Sky News. 14 June 2017. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  17. Weaver, Matthew; Hunt, Elle (14 June 2017). "London fire: six people confirmed dead after tower block blaze – latest updates". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  18. Hartley-Parkinson, Richard. "Video shows man making rope out of bed sheets to try and escape". Metro. Associated Newspapers Limited. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  19. "Grenfell Tower fire: Muslims awake for Ramadan among heroes who helped save lives". Retrieved 16 June 2017.
  20. Lubin, Rhian (14 June 2017). "Muslim boys up late for Ramadan 'saved lives' by waking Grenfell Tower residents". Retrieved 16 June 2017.
  21. "Muslims awake for Ramadan may have saved lives after raising alarm for horrific London tower blaze". 14 June 2017. Retrieved 16 June 2017.
  22. "Fire service says will be dealing with London tower block fire for next 24 hours". Reuters. 14 June 2017. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  23. Erlanger, Steven; Castle, Stephen (13 June 2017). "Fire Engulfs Apartment Tower in London". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 Derbyshire, Victoria (14 June 2017). Victoria Derbyshire 14 June 2017. Victoria Derbyshire (14 June 2017 ed.). BBC News. Event occurs at 8 mins. started on the fourth floor... my neighbour said his fridge exploded... no alarm until half-past one
  25. Geoff Wilkinson (14 June 2017). "Grenfell Tower: residents had predicted massive fire". Architects' Journal. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  26. Another fire safety scandal by Grenfell Action Group
  27. Griffin, Andrew (14 June 2017). "The fatal mistake made in the Grenfell Tower fire". The Independent. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  28. Waugh, Rob (14 June 2017). "Grenfell Tower had just had an £8.7m refurb – but was new cladding to blame?". Metro. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  29. 29.0 29.1 "Fire Risks From External Cladding Panels – A Perspective From The UK". Probyn Miers Ltd. 2016.
  30. Hurst, Will. "Fire expert: Grenfell Tower tragedy 'entirely predictable'". Architects Journal. EMAP Publishing. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  31. 31.0 31.1 Davies, Rob (16 June 2017). "Complex chain of companies that worked on Grenfell Tower raises oversight concerns". The Guardian.
  32. 32.0 32.1 "London fire latest: Grenfell Tower anger grows as death toll could soar above 100". 16 June 2016.
  33. BBC Live report, 16 June 2017.
  34. "Residents furious over claims fire-resistant cladding would have cost just £5,000". 16 June 2017. Retrieved 16 June 2017.
  35. "Celotex". Retrieved 15 June 2017. Our records show a Celotex product (RS5000) was purchased for use in refurbishing the building ... It is important to state that Celotex manufacture rigid board insulation only. We do not manufacture, supply or install cladding. Insulation is one component in a rainscreen system, and is positioned in that system behind the cladding material.
  36. "Health & Safety Datasheet" (PDF). Celotex. Retrieved 16 June 2017.
  37. ""How many more buildings in London have the same cladding as Grenfell Tower?". "Metro".
  38. "Latest updates: London tower block fire". BBC News. 14 June 2017. Retrieved 14 June 2017. The fire went under a new cover which had been put on with wooden slats. Most of the residents were worried about this.
  39. "Timber Framed Construction". The Chief Fire Officers' Association. 13 September 2010. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  40. "Timber Frame Fires". Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  41. White, Charles. "Cladding added to Grenfell Tower to 'improve view for nearby luxury flats'". Metro. Associated Newspapers Limited. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  42. Radical Housing Network at www.landforwhat.org.uk. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  43. Morley, Nicole. "How people are helping those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire". Metro. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  44. "Mosques are opening their doors to residents evacuated due to huge London tower block fire". The Independent. 14 June 2017. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  45. "Grenfell Tower fire victims offered Loftus Road as relief centre by QPR owner Tony Fernandes". Sky Sports. 14 June 2017.