Friday 22 September 2017

Grenfell Tower: Firefighters put out fridge blaze 'and were just leaving when flats erupted in flames'

The burnt out remains of the Grenfell Tower are seen in North Kensington, London, Britain June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
Floral tributes for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire are left outside the Notting Hill Methodist Church, in London, Britain June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
The charred ruins of the Grenfell tower block in London.

Danny Boyle

Firefighters had put out the initial fridge fire at Grenfell Tower and were leaving the building when the blaze suddenly flared up, it has emerged.

Crews believed they had put out the fire at the London high-rise and were astonished to see flames rising up the side of the building, new reports have claimed.

Shortly after dealing with the fridge fire early last Wednesday, firefighters were telling residents that it was out, BBC Panorama reported.

But, soon after, the 24-storey building was consumed by flames in one of Britain's biggest ever tower block fires that left at least 79 people dead.

Panorama on Monday night reported that firefighters had seen flames "shooting up" the side of the building. Those reports will add weight to claims that it was the cladding on the exterior of Grenfell Tower that caused the fire to spread so rapidly.

But Dave Green, national officer at the Fire Brigades Union, said the first firefighters at the scene might not have expected the outside of the building to be flammable.

The burnt out remains of the Grenfell Tower are seen in North Kensington, London, Britain June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
The burnt out remains of the Grenfell Tower are seen in North Kensington, London, Britain June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

The union official said that 1970s buildings like Grenfell Tower were designed so each flat was a box that contained fire within itself, with a non-flammable concrete exterior.

Mr Green said: "Clearly it was a hot night and if the (fire) was fairly close to an open window then potentially the flames could have got outside - if there were net curtains, something like that, it could have got up.

"Then the cladding might well have been smouldering.

"As a firefighter you wouldn't have thought to look outside. We would assume that the outside of the building would not be compromised."

The charred ruins of the Grenfell tower block in London.
The charred ruins of the Grenfell tower block in London.

The programme also disclosed that leaked letters show how ministers were repeatedly warned that fire regulations were not keeping people safe.

It said letters show ministers were warned that people living in high rise blocks such as Grenfell Tower were "at risk".

The dozen letters, sent by the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group in the aftermath of a 2009 fatal fire in Lakanal House, south London, warned the Government "could not afford to wait for another tragedy", according to Panorama.

The Parliamentary group wrote in March 2014: "Surely ... when you already have credible evidence to justify updating... the guidance... which will lead to saving of lives, you don't need to wait another three years in addition to the two already spent since the research findings were updated, in order to take action?

"As there are estimated to be another 4,000 older tower blocks in the UK, without automatic sprinkler protection, can we really afford to wait for another tragedy to occur before we amend this weakness?"

After further correspondence, then government minister Liberal Democrat Stephen Williams, replied: "I have neither seen nor heard anything that would suggest that consideration of these specific potential changes is urgent and I am not willing to disrupt the work of this department by asking that these matters are brought forward."

The group replied: "We're at a loss to understand, how you had concluded that credible and independent evidence which had life safety implications, was NOT considered to be urgent.

"As a consequence the group wishes to point out to you that should a major fire tragedy, with loss of life, occur between now and 2017, in for example, a residential care facility or a purpose built block of flats, where the matters which had been raised here, were found to be contributory to the outcome, then the group would be bound to bring this to others' attention."

Former cabinet minister Sir Eric Pickles received a letter about fire regulations from the parliamentary group in February 2014, according to the BBC.

Floral tributes for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire are left outside the Notting Hill Methodist Church, in London, Britain June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
Floral tributes for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire are left outside the Notting Hill Methodist Church, in London, Britain June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

In December 2015, the all-party group wrote to the former Conservative minister James Wharton, and warned about the risk of fires spreading on the outside of buildings with cladding.

"Today's buildings have a much higher content of readily-available combustible material. Examples are timber and polystyrene mixes in structure, cladding and insulation.

"This fire hazard results in many fires because adequate recommendations to developers simply do not exist. There is little or no requirement to mitigate external fire spread."

Former Conservative minister Gavin Barwell, who was recently appointed Prime Minister Theresa May's chief of staff, received further calls for action in September last year.

In November 2016, Mr Barwell replied to say his department had been looking at the regulations, and would make a statement "in due course".

In April 2017 Mr Barwell wrote to say he did "acknowledge that producing a statement on building regulations has taken longer than I had envisaged", according to the BBC.

Telegraph.co.uk

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