EYEWITNESSES, local people and neighbours of the residents of Grenfell Tower who perished in the fire yesterday morning, reported that ‘within five minutes it covered the whole building’.
‘All night we heard the screaming children. We saw people jumping out of the windows. The spread was very quick. A woman was shouting “save my baby”. There were people throwing down sheets. There was a bloke that jumped out that was on fire.’
A baby was caught by a member of the public after being dropped from ten floors up.
Several hundred people would have been in the block when the fire broke out shortly after midnight, most of them sleeping.
The Fire Brigades Union released the following statement from general secretary Matt Wrack: ‘People will be in shock this morning as the horrific events at Grenfell Tower continue to unfold. ‘The thoughts of firefighters from all over the UK will be with the victims of this devastating tragedy and their families.
‘Lives have been lost, many people have suffered serious injuries and others will be made homeless as a result of the fire. Firefighters and other emergency services have been working through the night to secure the building and to save as many lives as possible.
‘They will be doing a particularly difficult job witnessing brutal and tragic scenes with the professionalism we have come to expect from them. The thoughts of everyone in the fire service family will be with their colleagues in London this morning who are doing a sterling job under very difficult circumstances. A full investigation will need to be undertaken at the first possible opportunity to establish exactly what happened and what can be done to prevent such an incident happening again.’ Earlier, Wrack had said: ‘It should not be possible for a fire to develop in this way.’
London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said: ‘This is an unprecedented incident. In my 29 years of being a firefighter I have never, ever seen anything on this scale. Our first fire engines were on the scene within six minutes. Crews wearing breathing apparatus and extended duration breathing apparatus have been working in extremely challenging and very difficult conditions to rescue people and to bring this major fire under control. At this time I am very sad to confirm that there have been a number of fatalities.’
Many people blamed the polystyrene cladding on the side of the building which they said had been put up in a £2 million refurbishment just over a year ago. The Grenfell Action Group said they’ve been complaining for years about fire safety and that only a catastrophic event would expose the issues.
During the night, eyewitnesses said they saw lights from mobile phones or torches flashing at the top of the block of flats, and trapped residents coming to their windows holding children. Grenfell Tower, built in 1974, is part of the Lancaster West Estate housing complex of almost 1,000 homes. Construction firm Rydon said the recent building work which it carried out on the block ‘met all required building control, fire regulation and health and safety standards’.
Grenfell Tower underwent a two-year £10m refurbishment as part of a wider transformation of the estate, that was completed last year. Work included new exterior cladding and a communal heating system.
The 24-storey tower, containing about 120 flats, is managed by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) on behalf of the council. Before and during the refurbishment, the local Grenfell Action Group claimed that the block constituted a fire risk and residents warned that site access for emergency vehicles was ‘severely restricted’.