At least six are dead and more than 64 injured, 20 of them critically, after a catastrophic fire at the 24-story Grenfell Tower in the Kensington area of London. A witness told Reuters she feared not all the residents had escaped the fire. Some were evacuated in their pyjamas.
As Reuters described the inferno, flames licked up the sides of the block in the north Kensington area as 200 firefighters, backed up by 40 fire engines, fought the blaze for hours. Plumes of black and gray smoke billowed high into the air over the British capital hours after the blaze broke out at the Grenfell Tower where several hundred people live.
"I looked through the spy hole and I could see smoke everywhere and the neighbors are all there. There's a fireman shouting 'get down the stairs'," one of the block's residents, Michael Paramasivan, told BBC radio. "It was an inferno."
Residents rushed to escape through smoke-filled corridors in the housing block after being woken up by the smell of burning. Some said no fire alarm sounded. Witnesses said they saw trapped residents desperately shouting for help from windows on upper floors as flames enveloped the building.
"As we went past the fourth floor it was completely thick black smoke. As we’ve gone outside I’m looking up at the block and it was just going up. It was like pyrotechnics. It was just unbelievable how quick it was burning."
London Fire Brigade said the fire engulfed all floors from the second to the top of the block which contained 130 apartments.
"In my 29 years of being a fire fighter, I have never ever seen anything of this scale," London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton told reporters
In a statement released moment ago, Commander Stuart Cundy of the Metropolitan Police said: “I can confirm six fatalities at this time but this figure is likely to rise during what will be a complex recovery operation over a number of days. Many others are receiving medical care.”
In an echo of a fire that engulfed a luxury tower in Dubai that occurred on New ‘ Eve in 2015, early reports suggest that the cladding material used in construction – the outer layer of covering on the building – was flammable, and allowed the flames to quickly spread to every floor of the building.
More than 200 firefighters and dozens of fire trucks and ambulances were called to the scene, according to the Associated Press. Buildings adjacent to the Grenfell Tower were evacuated by police and firefighters over fears that the flames could spread. London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton calls the fire an “unprecedented incident” and says she has never seen anything on this scale in her 29-year career.
George Clarke, the presenter of “Amazing Spaces,” told Radio 5 Live he was covered in ash even though he was 100 meters (yards) from the scene. He said he saw people waving flashlights from the top levels of the building and saw rescuers “doing an incredible job” trying to get people out.
Authorities fully expect that the number of casualties will rise.
The fire erupted around midnight, and burned for more than nine hours.
At least one group has been warning about potential vulnerabilities at the high-rise. The Grenfell Action Group, a community organization formed to oppose a nearby redevelopment project, has been warning about the risk of fire there since 2013, the AP reported. The group says on its blog that it has raised concerns about testing and maintenance of firefighting equipment and blocked emergency access to the site.
After the fire, the group posted: "All our warnings fell on deaf ears and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time."
While the police have said the cause of the fire is not yet known, a few theories have emerged:
Among the safety issues highlighted by the Grenfell group was faulty wiring, which they said neraly caused a disaster four years ago.
In a blog post on November 20 the group said: "The Grenfell Action Group believe that the KCTMO narrowly averted a major fire disaster at Grenfell Tower in 2013 when residents experienced a period of terrifying power surges that were subsequently found to have been caused by faulty wiring," according to the Telegraph.
Witnesses described hearing one distressed resident apparently telling neighbours his faulty fridge caused the blaze.
Samira Lamrani, 38, who lives on nearby Hurstway Walk, told the Press Association: "When I arrived on the scene he (the resident) was amongst the people that were standing there.
"He was just beside himself. He was just as surprised at how quickly the fire spread as anybody else.
"I could hear him saying that he contacted the emergency services immediately and they reassured him everything would be under control within a short period of time, and obviously it wasn't."
Lamrani also told Britain's Press Association that she saw a member of the public catch a baby that was dropped from the burning tower block in west London.
Lamrani said she saw a woman try to save the baby by dropping it from a window “on the ninth or 10th floor.”
She says “people were starting to appear at the windows, frantically banging and screaming. The windows were slightly ajar, a woman was gesturing that she was about to throw her baby and if somebody could catch her baby. “Somebody did, a gentleman ran forward and managed to grab the baby.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan says questions need to be answered about tower blocks around the city following a devastating fire. Khan had been called to respond after reports that people had been advised in advance to remain in their flats in the event of fire. Khan says in a statement “there will be a great many questions over the coming days as to the cause of this tragedy and I want to reassure Londoners that we will get all the answers.”
The Guardian reported that residents repeatedly warned about the fire risk.
Michael Paramasivan, 37, a builder, lives on the seventh floor of the tower and managed to escape along with two roommates who escaped with him.
“I’ve lost absolutely everything,” he told the Guardian. “The most chilling moment was when I suddenly realised it was a fire.
“Between 1am and 1.30am, I was dozing in and out of sleep. I then smelled something. I got up and looked around to see if it was an electrical fault but there was nothing. Then I looked through the spyhole. There was smoke and people running past. We just ran straight out down the stairs.”
Paramasivan said the material on the outside of the building went up in flames rapidly. “It just went up like that,” he said, gesturing wildly. “There’s no fire alarms in the corridors, no sprinklers, nothing. There’s only smoke detectors in the flat and they didn’t go off.”
A live feed from the scene courtesy of RT