More than five years ago, a catastrophic fire at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, London, which lasted more than 24 hours, killed 72 people. It was the worst residential fire in Britain since the end of World War II.
Regrettably, the emergency services did not immediately evacuate residents on the night of the accident, but told them to stay in their apartments.
wreck the refrigerator
In the early hours of June 14, 2017, the first fire broke out in the kitchen of Apartment 16 on the fourth floor of the Grenfell Tower.
According to a later interim report by Dr Deyd, head of the University of Dundee’s Centre for Forensic Medicine, the fire was lit from “in or around” a refrigerator.
That day, apartment resident Behailu Kebede was woken by a smoke alarm. After entering the kitchen, he found smoke coming from the refrigerator and near the kitchen window.
Kaibede immediately called the police, and then four fire trucks were dispatched to the scene. At 0:59, the first fire truck arrived. The first group of firefighters entered the apartment at 1:7, according to the thermal imaging camera. They searched the bedroom first, then entered the kitchen seven minutes later.
When firefighter Daniel Brown entered the kitchen, he found a burning curtain floating about 2 to 3 feet from the ceiling. Thermal imagery at the time showed the fire had reached the window. When firefighters put out the fire in the refrigerator, they found that some small flames had “splashed” out of the window.
From outside the Grenfell Building, cellphone pictures showed orange flames around the kitchen window about 11 minutes after Kebede called the police. By 1:9, the fire had burned to the outside of the building.
The narrow corridor was engulfed by thick poisonous smoke. The people in the building were trapped.
The fire appears to have spread to the cladding of the building’s exterior before firefighters entered the kitchen. Dr Deyd’s report pointed to an unidentified object stored between the refrigerator and the wall – which may have contained an “electric cooking device” or “large electric stove”.
Fire expert Professor Luke Bisbee believes that the fire may have spread outside the kitchen because the fire and heat may have burned through the internal window frame (the transition layer between the wall and the window).
The fire was fierce, starting on the fourth floor and spreading rapidly upwards, through the east side of the building, to the north of the tower.
Mobile phone video showed the fire reaching the top floor of the east side of the Grenfell Tower at about 1:26 a.m. — less than 30 minutes after firefighters arrived.
Fire safety engineer Dr Lane said in a report to the Grenfell Public Inquiry Team that the fire climbed vertically along the tower and spread laterally between the windows. By 1:42, the north side of the tower was not spared either. After 10 minutes, the fire began to spread in the other direction, “invading” from east to south.
At 2:6, the London Fire Brigade declared the fire a “major incident”, and about 40 fire trucks were dispatched to the scene and on the road.
At first, the commanders of the London Fire Service adopted a “stay-at-home” strategy – in theory, the building was designed to contain the fire in the apartment where it started, as long as the firefighters moved smoothly.
But as the fire gradually got out of control, the narrow corridor was engulfed by thick poisonous smoke. The people in the building were trapped.
According to Dr. Lane, as early as 1:26, the “stay behind” strategy was basically useless. Some people no longer stay in place, but are moved to safe areas by stairs. But some residents with nowhere to go have to walk upstairs, hoping to hide in the apartment of a friend or neighbor upstairs.
At 2:10, the fire had “occupied” many places in the building; at 2:22, the fire spread to the south side of the tower; at 2:30, the east side of the building had “completely occupied”. But it wasn’t until 2:47 that the commander of the fire department finally gave up the “stay behind” strategy and “recommended people to leave the building as much as possible.”
The findings, published in October 2019, pointed to a “systematic failure” in the London Fire Brigade’s response to the fire.
By 2:51, the fire had reached the west side – at this point about 63 apartments were on fire and more than 100 people were still trapped in the building. At 4:30, the entire building – including more than 100 apartments – was completely engulfed in flames.
At 1:14 a.m. the next day, the fire finally went out after burning for a full 24 hours. Firefighters rescued 65 people from the building; 24 others died in the flames on the top floor of the tower.
Firefighters put out the fire
14 June 2018, London, one year anniversary of the Grenfell fire. Building lights up green, citizens vigil for the victims
A total of 72 people were killed in the fire. The youngest victim was 6-month-old baby Lena Belcardi, who died in her mother’s arms; the eldest was Sheila, 84, who lived on the 16th floor in Glenfern I have lived in the Erman Building for 34 years.
Immediately after the fire, the Metropolitan Police, the City of London and the British Traffic Police launched a large-scale search and reconstruction of the scene. Then-Prime Minister Theresa May also ordered a public inquiry.
With the assistance of forensic doctors, anthropologists, archaeologists and dentists, police went door-to-door through apartments in the building and examined the remains on every floor. Police collected 31 million documents and 2,500 pieces of physical evidence. Of these, 1,144 witnesses gave testimony and 383 companies participated in the investigation.
Grenfell Tower was built in the 1970s as part of the government welfare housing community “West Lancaster Community” (a social housing complex of nearly 1,000 homes), comprising 21 floors of residences and 3 floors for other Functional space with a total of 129 apartments.
The Grenfell Tower had undergone a renovation shortly before the fire. In May 2016, Grenfell Tower’s cladding firm completed an £8.6 million refurbishment that included refurbishing the exterior cladding, replacing windows and public heating.
In addition to this, the four floors at the base of the building have also been remodeled, adding seven more housing units and improving public facilities.
The most important part of the renovation of the Grenfell Tower was the addition of the external cladding, which used plastic (polyethylene) and aluminum sheets. In his report to the public inquiry, Professor Luke Bisbee said the evidence “strongly suggests” that the polyethylene material in the cladding was a major contributor to the fire’s spread.
Specifically, the Aluminium Composite Materials (ACM) product used in Grenfell Tower contains a flammable polyethylene polymer filler. It melts, drips and flows at high temperatures, potentially releasing a lot of energy during combustion.
In addition, Professor Bisbee found that other flammable materials may have contributed to the fire – such as polyurethane polymer foam insulation panels that were in use before the renovation. Fire expert Dr Ryan also pointed out in the report that the flammable materials used in the renovation of the tower’s windows were one of the reasons for the spread of the fire.
The Grenfell team also found that the building’s smoke extraction system was “crippled” at a critical moment; firefighters also had problems with water supply – the building was not equipped with “wet risers” for use in the event of a fire.
Dr Lane told the investigation team that exposed gas pipes were installed in the building in 2016, which also contributed to the fire. At the same time, none of the unit doors in the entire building met current fire safety standards. In addition, retrofits to elevators in 2005 and 2012-2016 were not conducive to evacuating residents and assisting emergency operations.
In January 2020, the police opened the next stage of the investigation, two years after the death of the last victim.