Grenfell Tower fire: Live updates as fire chief admits “it would be a miracle to find anyone alive’. Fears are growing for the missing, including a family of four and a mum and her two-year-old son, who haven’t been since the blaze broke out at the tower block in Kensington, west London: here.
Faces of the missing: Desperate families search for loved ones after Grenfell Tower fire. Children and pensioners are among those unaccounted for after the 24-storey block in west London was engulfed by flames which has resulted in multiple fatalities and dozens injured: here.
Director of company which refurbished Grenfell Tower ‘hangs up’ on Piers Morgan: here.
Cladding in London high-rise fire also blamed for 2014 Melbourne blaze. A fire at the Lacrosse building in Melbourne’s Docklands in 2014 is strikingly similar to London blaze as investigations point to cladding used in buildings: here.
London fire: Theresa May’s government accused of ignoring warnings over fire safety in tower block. Former housing ministers Gavin Barwell and Brandon Lewis both face questions: here.
From daily The Morning Star in Britain:
Grenfell residents warned of fire tragedy
Thursday 15th June 2017
At least 12 dead after years of complaints being ignored
RESIDENTS of the west London tower block that went up in flames on Tuesday night had repeatedly warned that a catastrophe was “inevitable” after years of ignored complaints, it was revealed yesterday.
At least 12 people were confirmed dead after fire struck the 24-storey Grenfell Tower, with numbers likely to rise as fire crews make their way through the gutted building. Twenty people were in critical condition in hospital.
Eyewitnesses reported seeing people jumping from windows and one woman dropping her baby to people below.
Fire crews were called to the scene on Latimer Road in west London at 12.54am, where 250 firefighters and 100 medics attended throughout the day.
There had been no fire alarm, residents said, with many relying on neighbours to wake them.
The 1970s-built block houses several hundred people and was refurbished last year with new exterior cladding and windows to improve insulation, at a cost of £8.6 million.
Local campaign group Grenfell Action said on its blog yesterday that its warnings about fire safety — including that access to the building was “severely restricted” for emergency services vehicles — fell on “deaf ears.”
It said: “We predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time.”
Grenfell Tower Residents Association’s former chair David Collins said the group had concerns about fire escape routes and lighting, and that the council “refused to investigate. They wouldn’t believe that the residents were concerned.”
He said 90 per cent of residents signed a petition asking for an investigation into the block’s management company Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), but the [Conservative local] council rejected it.
Parliament’s all-party fire safety group chair Jim Fitzpatrick, a Labour MP, said: “We’ve been pressing for fire sprinkler systems in buildings over a height level and in places where there is vulnerability, care homes and in schools — and government has been resisting that for some time.”
In 2009, a fire at Lakanal House tower block in Camberwell left at least a dozen dead, and Southwark Council was fined £570,000 over safety failings.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “[Camberwell and Peckham MP] Harriet Harman raised all these issues after that fire and the report demanded that sprinklers should be fitted to all these buildings.
“If you deny local authorities the funding they need, then there is a price that’s paid by a lack of safety facilities all over the country.”
Last year, the Labour leader tried to pass through amendments to the Housing and Planning Bill that would require private landlords to make homes safe and “fit for human habitation.”
But it was rejected by 312 votes to 219 including by 72 MPs who are landlords themselves, among them Tories Sajid Javid and Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Kensington’s new Labour MP Emma Dent Coad echoed Mr Corbyn’s sentiments, saying: “I have brought it up quite a few times.
“In my [council] ward, we have three tower blocks and all of them have had fires recently.”
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “Firefighters and other emergency services have been working through the night to secure the building and to save as many lives as possible.
“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.”
10 questions that need answers after Grenfell Tower fire tragedy which left at least 12 dead. The disaster could become the worst since the Bradford City stadium fire of 1985 – some are already demanding a public inquiry: here.
From daily The Morning Star in Britain:
The Grenfell Tragedy: Working class lives matter
Thursday 15th June 2017
AVOIDABLE tragedy has again hit a working-class community, with the Grenfell Tower inferno bringing out the best in our multicultural society and our overstretched emergency services.
Fire, ambulance and police services reacted without delay, risking their own well-being in the west London tower block to rescue survivors and minimise loss of life.
Local mosques, churches and community halls offered emergency accommodation and gave food, drinks and clothing to those who escaped the blaze.
People of all backgrounds across the capital responded to appeals for material assistance, helping fellow Londoners who had lost their belongings.
But heart-warming as it is to see once more a multiracial, multicultural community unite before a monstrous disaster, other emotions, anger and frustration, come to the fore.
Questions arise as to why death-scarred tragedies in homes, workplaces, schools and transport — places where people are entitled to feel safe — continue to strike after the usual recitations by those in authority about never again, hearts going out, in our thoughts and prayers, lessons learned and so on.
Experts will need time to discover the precise cause of the Grenfell Tower inferno, but their concentration will focus on technical details.
The greatest conundrum, unlikely to be answered is whether those who hold the reins of power value working-class lives too cheaply.
One of the main driving forces of London property values in recent years has been the construction of tower blocks offering luxury flats as investments or future boltholes to wealthy overseas citizens.
A comparison between the fire precautions and emergency provisions laid down for these and the tower blocks owned by local councils and operated by arm’s length management organisations or sold into the private rented sector might be instructive.
Would the luxury apartment sector affix flammable polystyrene panels to the block exterior?
Would it recommend that, if fire breaks out, tenants lock themselves in their rooms to await rescue?
Would it regard having a 27-storey block without a building-wide alarm or water sprinkler system as acceptable?
Would it ignore eight fire safety warnings by tenants over a three-year period?
Would it disregard the need for a 24-hour concierge service even though tenants had requested it to enhance block security?
Jeremy Corbyn is right to recall that Harriet Harman’s call for sprinklers to be installed in high-rise buildings after the 2009 fatal fire at Lakanal House in south London was ignored.
Cash-squeezed local councils have to make desperate decisions about spending priorities when faced by a government intent on axing public spending so as to afford cuts in taxation for the richest 5 per cent and hand subsidies to big business through reduced corporation tax levels.
Theresa May’s chief of staff Gavin Barwell should tell us why, as housing minister until last week, he failed to honour the four-year-old government commitment to publish the report on updating building fire regulations following the Lakanal inquiry.
Tory MPs’ rejection last year of the Corbyn team’s amendment to the government’s Housing and Planning Bill — namely that private landlords should be required to make their properties safe and “fit for human habitation” — provides a clue.
It’s not simply that many of them are landlords themselves. Even those who aren’t regarding it as axiomatic that private profit takes precedence over working people’s right to feel safe in their own homes.
Their actions are more eloquent than their words. In their view, working-class lives don’t matter.
This video from Britain says about itself:
14 June 2017
From daily News Line in Britain:
Thursday, 15 June 2017
NORTH KEN FIRE HORROR
FBU – ‘It should not be possible for a fire to develop in this way’
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.’ … 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 [Conservative local] 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’.
From daily News Line in Britain:
Thursday, 15 June 2017
The lesson from the tower block fire disaster is stop the fire service cuts!
SIX people have been confirmed dead and many are missing after a huge fire engulfed a 24-storey North Kensington tower block, Grenfell Tower, after midnight very early on Wednesday morning.
Families had been told that in the event of a fire they would be alerted by fire alarms and that they should stay in their flats, where safety provisions ensured that they would be safe for an hour, by which time the firefighters would have arrived and they would be safe.
The reality was that there was no central building fire alarm, and although the fire brigade arrived promptly, the fire had torn up on one side of the building and seemed to be fuelled by inflammable materials, probably by cladding that had been put on the outside of the building at the cost of £2 million to make the building prettier.
The first that people knew of the danger was when some were woken up by the fire, saw the corridors outside their front door filled with smoke, and grabbed their children and escaped down a smoke-filled fire escape stairway. Others never awoke and were engulfed by thick smoke and a fierce blaze.
Some people tried to jump from windows, or even to throw their children out of upper storey windows. Others tried to indicate they were trapped by flicking on and off the light on their mobile phones or torches. This was in vain since the fire brigade were unable to proceed above the 12th floor, according to the Mayor of London.
The FBU was shocked by the rapid spread of the blaze, and the combustibility of the building, with FBU leaders observing that, ‘It should not be possible for the fire to develop in this way.’ The fire developed so quickly that eyewitnesses described people trapped in the burning Grenfell Tower screaming for help and yelling for their children to be saved.
Firefighters bravely entered the building and rushed up the smoke-filled fire escape stairway and, in the words of London Mayor Sadiq Khan, rescued ‘large numbers’, but he added: ‘A lot of people were unaccounted for.’ There were several hundred people asleep when the fire erupted and then tore through the building.
Once again the conduct of the fire service was exemplary. Paul Munakr, who lives on the seventh floor, managed to escape. ‘As I was going down the stairs, there were firefighters, truly amazing firefighters that were actually going upstairs, to the fire, trying to get as many people out the building as possible,’ he told the BBC.
In fact, the lesson from this disaster is clear. It is that the huge cuts that have decimated the Fire Service must stop immediately. It is clear that there must be enough trained firefighters not just to put out blazes but to do safety checks at buildings regularly to ensure that they have not been degraded to become firetraps.
At a press conference on June 5th, Dave Green of the FBU warned of the dangers that savage cuts had produced. He said: ‘Cities such as Greater Manchester and London had seen huge cuts’ adding that nationwide after seven years of cuts the fire and rescue services had lost one in six firefighters.
‘Our members are very much feeling the strain,’ he warned, adding ‘at some point or another we will be found wanting and that point is very, very close. We have consistently said to both the coalition and also the Conservative government that you need to invest in the fire and rescue service. Our members will attend anything they are asked to attend. But we are constrained by our ability, by numbers, by resources.’
Fire Brigades Union National Officer Green added: ‘The fire and rescue service has been under attack from the government since 2010 through funding cuts – this much we know. Ten thousand jobs have gone and scores of stations have been closed … Now, there is another threat. Privatisation. The Service is seen as an area ripe for privatisation by those who look to make money out of taking essential services out of public ownership.’
The lesson from the fire at Grenfell Tower is to end the cuts in the fire service, reopen the closed fire stations, recruit another 10,000 firefighters, stop the privatisation drive, and get rid of the Tory government.
This video from London, England says about itself:
London Grenfell Tower Fire Survivor Talks About His Escape from Inferno
14 June 2017
This man spoke to Assed Baig, a journalist with Channel 4 News, about his escape from his home on the 17th floor of Grenfell Tower with his 68-year-old aunt.
We’ve not yet been able to independently verify his suggestion that the building had no central fire alarm, or that the cladding was especially flammable. “We saw the fire engines, so we were looking outside at what’s going on. There was no fire alarms anywhere, because we don’t have a kind of integrated fire system – it’s just everyone’s house for itself. I walked out into the common area to see if the lifts are moving, to see if people are in a hassle – nothing. But I could smell the smoke.
“I went back inside the house, looked out the window. I started looking down the window – I had to really pull myself out to look down the window, from the 17th floor, and I see the fire blazing, and coming up really fast, because of the cladding – the cladding was really flammable, and it just caught up like a matchstick.”
Walking with his aunt – “step by step, slowly, slowly” – down the smoke-filled stairwell from the 17th floor was terrifying, he says. “The smoke was already strong when I was getting out – god knows how it would have been minutes after.”
He lost everything in the fire.
By Laura Tiernan in Britain:
London’s Grenfell Tower inferno: A crime against the working class
15 June 2017
The fire that consumed Grenfell Tower block in west London early Tuesday morning has fuelled outrage among local residents and community groups, whose warnings of serious fire hazards were repeatedly ignored by council authorities.
The catastrophic fire broke out shortly before 1:00 a.m., on the second floor of the council flats in Kensington. Flames quickly engulfed the 24-storey building that is home to an estimated 500 people.
Twelve are confirmed dead, but the death toll is expected to rise. A community worker assisting with evacuations told the Daily Mail that he believed no one on the top three floors survived. A further 74 people are being treated in six hospitals, with 18 in critical care.
Residents and eyewitnesses described harrowing scenes as those trapped inside the burning building screamed for help, waving towels, t-shirts and mobile phone flashlights to attract the attention of firefighters.
As the smoke thickened, some residents on the upper floors jumped to escape the flames. Witnesses described emergency service workers covering the victims’ bodies, some of them children, with sheets. People trapped inside called friends and loved ones. A young mother of two sent a Snapchat video message to her best friend at 2:54 a.m., begging for help before saying good-bye.
Lower down, on the ninth or 10 th floor, a woman pleaded with onlookers to catch her baby wrapped in blankets. “A man ran forward and miraculously grabbed the baby,” a woman told reporters.
A nurse who lives nearby told CNN, “It was an inferno… I’ve never seen anything like it in my life… Even firefighters in full protective gear were walking out wounded.”
Residents told reporters that no fire alarm sounded to warn them of the blaze. Firefighters who called LBC radio confirmed there was no central fire alarm for the building, no internal sprinklers and just one stairwell for the entire tower block. The fire brigade’s ladders only reached the 12th floor. Other residents explained they were told by emergency services to “stay put” and block their front door entrances with wet towels rather than risk exiting the building. Many are thought to have perished.
A London firefighter with 29 years’ service told LBC radio that stay-put instructions work “in a normal fire situation,” ensuring that fires in a confined apartment are contained. But he explained the Grenfell Tower fire was not a normal situation.
As social media coverage of the fire went viral, thousands posted comments thanking fire crews for their heroic actions in rescuing victims. Many condemned recent cuts to the fire service that have seen 10 London fire stations closed, 27 fire engines removed, and 500 fire crew axed from service. £23.5 million in additional cuts are scheduled by 2019.
According to eye witnesses, the fire on the second floor spread across the building in less than 15 minutes.
External plastic cladding channelled the fire upwards, creating an inferno. The flammable cosmetic cladding was installed last year as part of hated “regeneration” measures by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO). The Independent reported that the cladding was added last year “to improve the view from the luxury flats around it.”
Outside the tower block, local residents said authorities were deliberately gutting safety as part of efforts to gentrify the area and drive tenants out: “We believe the council and the TMO have been really managing a decline in social housing here, to add justification to their plans to regenerate, which is another word for demolishing the whole area,” a Tower resident told reporters.
A young male resident told the BBC that newly-installed “shoddy” cladding “set the place alight.” “There’s two options, they can either regenerate these blocks or knock them down… They don’t want us here and they put those rich man’s blocks over there…”
The youth rejected attempts by a BBC reporter to silence him. It was “too early to jump to conclusions,” she told him repeatedly. “Sometimes it’s just dumb luck,” LBC radio host James O’Brien told listeners.
These attempts at damage control are belied by the facts.
Grenfell Action Group (GAG) and residents have been warning of the risks of a serious fire at the flats for more than a decade. Just seven months ago, it warned that failings in the estate management organisation’s health and safety practices were a “recipe for a future major disaster.” These warnings were dismissed by Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council.
Fire hazard warnings issued by the group over many years have called attention to: faulty electrical wiring and frequent power surges, faulty emergency lighting, vehicles obstructing emergency access to the tower, the absence of a building-wide fire alarm system and the unsuitability of the council’s “stay put” guidelines in the event of a fire in one of the blocks. In November 2016, the group quoted from the TMO’s own report which found a failure to inspect and maintain fire safety equipment: “the fire extinguisher in this building, the basement boiler room, the lift motor room, the ground floor electrical room plus other areas were out of test date according to the contractor’s label on the extinguishers.”
The group reports that in 2013 a major fire at Grenfell Tower was “narrowly averted when residents experienced a period of terrifying power surges that were subsequently found to have been caused by faulty wiring.”
“It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO [Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation] , and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders.”
The disaster is the product of a cover-up that goes to the heart of the Conservative government of Prime Minister Theresa May.
The last major tower block blaze in London, in July 2009, was at Lakanal House in Camberwell, claiming six lives including two children and a baby. A coroner’s report recommended building regulations be updated, and urged developers refurbishing high-rise blocks to install sprinkler systems.
Tory Minister Brandon Lewis told MPs the government had committed to a policy of slashing one in two building regulations. “The cost of fitting a fire sprinkler system may affect house building—something we want to encourage—so we must wait to see what impact that regulation has,” he said.
Former Housing Minister Gavin Barwell promised to review the Building Regulations relating to fire safety, but the review never materialised. Barwell was appointed May’s new chief of staff Saturday.
On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Radical Housing Network, to which the Grenfell Action Group is affiliated, released a statement: “The fire at Grenfell is a horrific, preventable tragedy for which authorities and politicians must be held to account. Grenfell’s council tenants are not second class citizens—yet they are facing a disaster unimaginable in Kensington’s richer neighbourhoods.”
The group continued: “It is an outrage that in 21st-century Britain, authorities cannot be trusted to provide safe housing, and that people in council properties cannot put children safely to bed at night.”
The Kensington and Chelsea borough is one of the most unequal in the country—home to the iconic Harrods department store, billionaire oligarchs and some of the most expensive real estate on the planet. A recent property in Carlyle Square, Chelsea sold for £16,500,000. It boasts an “award-winning garden,” a cinema “with stadium seating,” a bar area and a gym. Property agents Engels & Volker describe Chelsea’s “laid back vibe.”
Yet in the same borough, thousands of families are forced into squalid housing that amounts to a death trap. The entire apartment block must be regarded as a crime scene. No faith can be placed in the authorities. Workers must take matters into their own hands against a state cover up.
They must demand the full and immediate disclosure of all the dealings of the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, including its financial relations with the local authority. But it cannot stop there. This must go all the way to government—beginning with establishing how ministers acted to thwart fire safety measures to cut housing developers’ costs and an assessment of the impact of cuts in fire services.
This video from London says about itself:
Grenfell Tower Inferno Local Speaks Out on Social Cleansing
14 June 2017
A community elder speaks out. Both the local council – Kensington & Chelsea – and it’s arms length Tenant Management Organisation were warned repeatedly over many years that such a tragedy was bound to happen and protested against the very cladding that made the building burn so quickly. Any attempt to say otherwise by either organisation is an outright untruth.
Grenfell Tower residents warn: “People have had enough”
By our reporters
15 June 2017
The World Socialist Web Site spoke to residents about the fire that gutted Grenfell Tower early Wednesday morning.
Two young occupants, Siar and Mansoor, who were waiting outside police cordons, said, with tears in their eyes, that they lived on the 3rd floor and their uncle and his family lived on the 23rd floor.
Siar described the horrific ordeal they had just suffered, saying, “We were not asleep because we were eating after the Ramadan day fast. That is what saved us. Had we been sleeping we would not have been woken by any fire alarms. The building had none, nor fire sprinklers nor emergency lighting in the corridors showing the way out.
“In the corridors and the stairwell it was pitch black with smoke. The emergency services came up and isolated the building, preventing the surviving residents from helping those trapped inside. Police said that it was all under control.
“My uncle on the 23rd floor was ordered to stay indoors by the emergency services. We don’t have any news of him. His wife and son were dragged out of the building and are now in a coma in hospital.
“My uncle and most residents had requested for alarms to be installed in the building. To no avail. Lately the Labour Party campaigned on the promise of installing better safety systems. They said ‘Vote for us and wait until after the election’.
“Up to 800 people lived in the building. We expect the death toll to be much higher. Most media do not want to talk to those residing in the building but only neighbouring tenants.”
A young estate resident told the WSWS, “The council does not care about ordinary people. There are no sprinkler systems… They can’t fix the lifts or fire alarms. The windows are not even secured. A little kid named Christian fell from the 18th floor of Whitstable House a few years back.”
His friend added, “It’s the dodgy material that has been used to face the towers and the school next door. It could go the same way. A friend of mine is with the local action committee and he says they have been arguing for years about the fire risk in the tower blocks and always being fobbed off by the council and contractors. He said there would be a catastrophe and now it has happened.”
Gary noted, “It’s the fault of the tenant management organisation. They charged £10 million to refurbish Grenfell Tower. What did they do with all the money? The council gives back handers to all their mates. It’s corrupt.”
His friend John replied, “It’s bigger than that. It’s the MPs and government. We have had enough. That showed in the election in Kensington when the Tory woman lost after three recounts and Labour got in. But … look at the Labour councils in London that have sold off the management of their estates to private companies, which have done exactly the same. They have clad the tower blocks in the same materials as here. People have had enough. Things are going to explode. I hate to think what will happen when they have the funerals of the people who have died today.”