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Grenfell Tower fire | Report from the scene

  • Death toll rises to 17
  • Building had undergone refurbishment, raising questions about cladding
  • ”The entire top half of the building is gutted”

A devastating fire broke out in a 1970s residential tower block in North Kensington, London, in the early hours of Wednesday with 12 confirmed fatalities.

The fire broke out at around 1am this morning in the tower which contains 120 homes. The tower was still on fire this morning (Wednesday), however, London Fire Brigade had said a structural engineer had deemed the building safe enough for a search and rescue effort to begin.

The 24 storey tower block was built in 1974 but had recently undergone a £10M refurbishment to install new insulated exterior cladding, new double glazed windows and a new communal heating system. According to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea website, a new communal entrance has been created along with nine new flats created from ‘unused spaces’.

The construction firm Rydon, which completed refurbishment of Grenfell Tower in 2016 released this statement: “We are shocked to hear of the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower and our immediate thoughts are with those that have been immediately affected by the incident, their families relatives and friends.

“Rydon completed a refurbishment of the building in the summer of 2016 for KCTMO (Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation) on behalf of the council, which met all required building control, fire regulation and health and safety standards.

“We will cooperate with the relevant authorities and emergency services and fully support their inquiries into the causes of this fire at the appropriate time. Given the ongoing nature of the incident and the tragic events overnight, it would be inappropriate for us to speculate or comment further at this stage.”

Reporter Fiona McIntyre is at the scene. At 11.30 she wrote: “I’m on Bramley Road just next to Latimer Road tube station [looking toward the west side of the building]. There is a wide police cordon around the area and lots of fire, ambulance and police vans. Many people are carrying bottles of water and food supplies and are being directed to shelters by police. Several TV crews are dotted around and there are at least two helicopters.

“The upper half of the building is still on fire and there is a lot of thick, dirty smoke. The fire looks like it is contained to two floors – one about halfway up which is burning a lot, and about three floors from the top, but there are less flames there. Bits of debris and ash have been floating down on to people watching below. The entire top half of the building is gutted – it looks like a shell and it is completely charred but you can see the outlines of windows. The bottom half of the building – at least from this side – looks less damaged, not blackened and does not appear to be on fire.”

The design and access statement published in 2012 for the tower’s regenration described its structural frame as columns, core, stairs and floor plates of in-situ poured concrete. Pre-cast concrete panels form the cladding to the residential floors: one panel type serves as a horizontal structural spandrel, spanning column to column and the other is a facing to the columns, each panel a full storey height. Additional cladding had been added as par of the refurbishment in 2016.

New Civil Engineer’s technical editor emeritus Dave Parker said: “After Ronan Point the Building Regulations were changed in 1970 to cover progressive collapse - caused by explosions, vehicle impacts, etc, but not specifically as a result of fire.

“The nearest parallel I know of is the Torre Windsor fire in 2005. The main concrete frame survived, although badly damaged, while the perimeter steel columns collapsed.

“In this case the frame, be it steel or concrete, will obviously be badly damaged, but my best guess, with fingers crossed, is that if it was going to collapse it would have done so already.”

Ronan Point was a 22-story tower block in east London. In 1968 a gas explosion in the kitchen of an 18th floor flat caused the collapse of the south-east corner of the structure. Four people died and 17 were injured.

Kensington fire

London Fire Brigade tweet

Source: @LondonFire / Twitter

London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said early this morning: “This is an unprecedented situation, with a major fire that has affected all floors of this 24 storey building, from the second floor up.

“Over 200 firefighters and officers are attending this incident, with 40 fire engines and a range of other specialist vehicles, including 14 fire rescue units in attendance.

“Based on the level of resource that were needed at this fire we declared it a major incident in the early hours of this morning.”

The Grenfell Action Group said it had raised concerns about fire safety at the building: “All our warnings fell on deaf ears and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time.”

  • Kensington fire

    Grenfell Tower fire | Report from the scene

Readers' comments (1)

  • Craig Orrell

    This should not happen! Questions over the cladding composition and if any cavity barrier was installed to prevent spread of fire and the quality control on site if the system was installed to the specified details.

    Indeed its on the scale of Ronan Point in respect reviewing the building codes once we know what caused the incident.

    My thoughts are with those who have been affected in this tragedy.

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