At least 12 killed, scores injured in London highrise fire Features, International, News

Firefighters direct jets of water onto a tower block severely damaged by a serious fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville

By: Samantha Berdini

A horrifying fire engulfed a 24-story apartment building in London early Wednesday morning leaving at least 12 dead, with 20 in critical condition and another 74 injured.

The Metropolitan police said the number of deaths is expected to rise over the next few days.

A number of witnesses claimed seeing residents jump from Grenfell Tower in North Kensington to escape the flames.

However, Shamira Lamrani, a woman at the scene, told CBC she did watch one woman drop a baby from a window on the ninth or 10th floor to a man on the sidewalk, who grabbed the child.

John Gales, professor of Fire Safety Engineering at Carleton University, suspects the number of casualties will rise due to smoke exposure.

“The scary thing about an incident like this is the smoke. Somebody can walk away perfectly fine, and within 24 hours be extremely sick or worse,” he said. “The materials that were burning in the fire make up the chemical composition of the smoke.”

Gales said he can’t be sure what chemicals were in the building, but any fire of that scale has the potential to be harmful afterwards.

More than 200 firefighters arrived around 1 a.m., where they worked until 11 a.m. attempting to save residents and manage the flames. The fire brigade will likely be on the scene for 24 hours.

The fire spread to the full height of the building, and was still burning more than six hours later.

“This is an unprecedented incident,” Dany Cotton, commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, told reporters on the scene. “In my 29 years of being a firefighter, I have never seen anything of this scale.”

Residents have been speaking to media outlets about confusion about evacuation instructions, saying some were told to stay in their apartments, and the lack of warning devices.

“There were no fire alarms,” Edward Daffarn, a resident of the building, told CBC.

Daffarn said residents complained many times before to London City Council about building safety.

Gales said the confusion likely comes from an unclear evacuation strategy.

“There are many unanswered questions about the official strategy,” he said. “If this was ‘stay-in-place’ the building would have had to been built with those features.”

Gales explained “stay-in-place” as a fire resistant construction for high-rise buildings that would contain a fire in its place of origin. In this event, only one resident would have to evacuate.

As the incident unfolds, he said officials should be looking into sprinkler systems and pressurized stairwells.

The Grenfell Action Group, a community formed to oppose a nearby redevelopment project, has been warning about the risk of a fire at Grenfell Tower since 2013.

In a blogpost on Wednesday morning, the group said:

“We have posted numerous warnings in recent years about the very poor fire safety standards at Grenfell Tower and elsewhere…ALL OF OUR WARNINGS FELL ON DEAF EARS and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and it was just a matter of time.”

Some people in the area feared the fire was a terror-related incident after the attack at London’s Borough Market only 10 days before. However, authorities have discounted that possibility.

 

 

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