12 people have died in a west London tower block fire. All that remains of Grenfell Tower is a charred shell.. fire survivors describe horror

12 people have died in a west London tower block fire. All that remains of Grenfell Tower is a charred shell.. fire survivors describe horror

Some residents waved blankets from their windows to alert the firefighters to their presence

It went up, said one survivor, “like a matchstick”.

Far, far too quickly, Grenfell Tower in west London, 24 storeys high, containing 120 homes, and maybe more than 200 people, became a raging inferno, “the flames visible in every window”, as one witness put it

People living hundreds of metres from the tower reported being woken at about 12:45am by the sound of screams – screams that they said would continue for two solid hours, until around 3am.

Those closer still to the base of the tower could make out only too well what the trapped residents were saying.

Tower fire locals dig deep with support and solidarity

“There was a woman screaming ‘my baby, my baby, I need to get out, I need to save my baby’,” said Zara, a local resident

“But we were just looking up. We couldn’t do anything. There was nothing we could do.”

Firefighters rescued 65 people from Grenfell Tower in north Kensington, after they were called at 00:54 BST.

Witnesses said people were trapped in the tower block, and that some jumped from windows in an effort to escape.

All the time they kept screaming, Sometimes you couldn’t hear what they were saying. Other times, it was ‘Help! Help!’ said Olga Nassar, 76, still in tears at midday, staring at the blackened tower from her home down the road

Grenfell tower fire

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

Falling burning debris at the scene of a huge fire at Grenfell tower

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

Local residents watch as Grenfell Tower is engulfed by fire

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

London Fire Brigade said there has been a number of fatalities from the blaze

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

The fire was first reported in the early hours of Wednesday and continued into the morning

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

A local resident sees the fire over the rooftops

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

A firefighter reacts at the scene of the blaze

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

Residents watch as the blaze continues

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

More than 200 firefighters have been fighting the blaze

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has declared the fire a major incident

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

Police and fire services attempted to evacuate the concrete block of flats

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

A woman runs to assist paramedics working at the fire at the Grenfell Tower

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

Smoke rises from the building after a huge fire engulfed the 24 story Grenfell Tower in Latimer Road, West London in the early hours of Wednesday morning

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

Fire fighters tackle the 24-storey building in West London

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

Ambulances are stationed nearby

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

Paramedics arrive with oxygen

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

Emergency services believe it will take some time to establish the cause of the fire

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

Tens of people have been taken to five different hospitals across London

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

A man comforts a boy after the tower block was severely damaged

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

Firefighters stand amid debris in a childrens playground nearby

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

Firefighters are stationed at the building

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

Smoke engulfs Grenfell tower

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

Lots of people donating water, food and clothing to St Clement's church for the residents of Grenfell Tower in Latimer Road

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

A man speaks to a fire fighter after a huge fire engulfed the 24 story Grenfell Tower in Latimer Road, West London

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

According to the London Fire Brigade (LFB), 40 fire engines and 200 firefighters are working to put out the blaze. Residents in the tower were evacuated and a number of people were treated for a range of injuries

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

A resident of Grenfell Tower is trapped as smoke billows from the window after a fire engulfed the building

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

A distressed, trapped man waves an item of clothing from his window, at the scene of a huge fire at Grenfell tower block in Latimer Road

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

Members of the emergency services work at the scene of a huge blaze which engulfed Grenfell Tower, a residential tower block in Latimer Road

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

According to the London Fire Brigade (LFB), 40 fire engines and 200 firefighters are working to put out the blaze

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

Fire fighters tackle the building after a huge fire engulfed the 24 story Grenfell Tower in Latimer Road, West London

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

The burnt facade of Grenfell Tower, the night after the fire in Latimer Road, West London

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

Local residents gather at a community centre near Grenfell Tower in Latimer Road

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

A resident in a nearby building watches smoke rise from Grenfell Tower in Latimer Road, West London

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

Police and rescue services operate near the fire at Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey apartment block in Latimer Road

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

A man stands amid debris on the A40 after a serious fire in a tower block at Latimer Road in West London

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

A view of the empty A40 highway after it was closed in both directions, due to the proximity of the fire at Grenfell Tower block in Latimer Road

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

Smoke rises from the building after a huge fire engulfed the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower block in Latimer Road, West London

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

Bodies are removed from the scene after a fire engulfed the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in west London

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

Bodies are removed from the scene after a fire engulfed the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in west London

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

Provisions on tables at the Westway Sports Centre close to the scene after a fire engulfed the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in west London

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

Beds are laid out in the Westway Sports Centre close to the scene after a fire engulfed the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in west London

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

A pile of donated clothes, sleeping bags and water lie next to a police cordon near the burning the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower block in Latimer Road, West London

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

Signs asking for donations are seen outside the Notting Hill methodist Chruch

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

Smoke rises from the building after a huge fire engulfed the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower block in Latimer Road, West London

London in fire: Grenfell Tower horror

A man is rescued by fire fighters after a huge fire engulfed the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower block in Latimer Road, West London


“Frantic screams filled the air. People were starting to appear at the windows, banging and screaming. The more I looked up, floor upon floor, endless numbers of people. Mainly the kids, because obviously their voices… their high-pitched voices – that will remain with me for a long time.
I could hear them screaming for their lives. We members of the public were reassuring them, telling them we’ve done what we can and that we’ve phoned 999, but the look on their face was death.” said Samira Lamrani, 38

Some residents waved blankets from their windows to alert the firefighters to their presence. Others tried using torches or mobile phones to flash SOS – sometimes to no avail.

One man was signalling SOS from the top floor. He was screaming ‘help, help, help!’, but no-one helped, He was literally on fire and he jumped.” said Hadil Alamily

Two others kept flashing SOS from one of the top floors, repeatedly trying to signal to the firefighters.

“They couldn’t get to them,” said Victoria Goldsmith, who had watched helplessly from below. “The fire kept going, and the lights went out.”

Such was the desperation that one person, it was reported, was seen trying to lower themselves out of a window with a sort of homemade parachute.

And yet there were escapes, some almost defying belief.

'Like 9/11 and The Towering Inferno in one' - Firefighter recalls Grenfell horror

A woman on the ninth or tenth floor 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, said Ms Lamrani

From what can be pieced together now, it seems that inside, as the flames and smoke edged ever closer, those inside Grenfell Tower faced desperate choices that would decide whether they lived or died.

The official advice seems to have been to stay inside your flat.

A residents’ organisation, the Grenfell Action Group, would later publish photos of signs inside the block advising residents: “You should initially be safe to stay in your flat keeping the doors and windows closed.”

A 2014 newsletter seems to have explained the longstanding “stay put” policy: “Grenfell was designed according to rigorous fire safety standards. The new front doors for each flat can withstand a fire for up to 30 minutes, which gives plenty of time for the fire brigade to arrive.”

But as yet, it is not entirely clear what, if anything, was done about the warning issued by the action group in November 2016, following a fire in another London tower block.

“The advice to remain in our properties would have led to certain fatalities,” it stated seven months ago. “We are calling on our landlord to reconsider.”

It seems that when the firefighters arrived on the scene, they too advised some residents to stay put.

Francis Dean said they told his sister Zainab to remain in her 14th floor flat with her two-year-old son Jeremiah.

As he stood watching the blaze, Mr Dean, 47, was able to talk to his sister over the phone.

“I told her to leave by the stairs,” he said, “But she said she had been told to stay inside her flat.”

Sadiq Khan on 'distressing and devastating' tower fire

At one stage, he told The Telegraph, a firefighter borrowed his phone and spoke to Zainab: "He told her to keep calm and that they were coming to get her. He kept saying that to her again and again.

"But then he handed me the phone and said: 'Tell her you love her'.”

“I knew then,” added Mr Dean, “To fear the worst.

“The phone went dead and I couldn't talk to her."

It was one of the disaster’s cruellest twists: modern technology meant those trapped in the fire could talk to the ones they loved. But those loved ones remained powerless to help, and after the communications went, they had no idea whether their brother, sister, husband, wife, son or daughter had survived.

One 30-year-old mother sent a snapchat video.

“She is praying in Arabic,” said one friend, weeping as she recounted what the video showed. "You can’t see anything because it’s all smoke. Forgive me everyone,” the mother cried. “Goodbye.”

She had been on the 23rd floor with her two small children when the fire erupted.

Khadija Saye was able to send Facebook messages from her flat.

"She was on Facebook saying she was unable to get out of the flat, that the smoke was so thick, She was saying she just can’t get out and ‘Please pray for me. There’s a fire in my council block. I can’t leave the flat. Please pray for me and my mum.’ Someone asked ‘Did you try going down low with towels?’ She said ‘Yes, it’s in my room’. I’m assuming she meant the smoke.” said her friend Nicola Green, the wife of the MP David Lammy

Ms Saye was last heard of at about 3am. The social media appeals for information about her whereabouts now are continuing.

Others are known to have survived – but only because if the official advice had indeed been to stay put, they ignored it.

Jeremy Corbyn calls for serious questions over Grenfell fire

Jamal Ali, 28, said his aunt, Zainab Ali, had been told by police to stay in her flat but she had ignored them, running down the stairs to safety with her five children.

Some suggested the fire alarms in the block had only started sounding 30 minutes after the blaze began. They said that only neighbours banging on their doors or screaming ‘fire’ allowed them to get out in time.

One man, who escaped from his 17th floor flat, said he only realised what was going on when the fire engines arrived.

“We saw the fire engines,” he said, “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 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 - it just caught up like a matchstick.”

He managed to get himself and his 68-year-old aunt through thick smoke and out of the building, he said, but he feared for the fate of others who waited longer to make their escape.

london-fire-grenfell-tower

More than 200 firefighters were sent to tackle the blaze (PA)

At least 200 firefighters came to battle the flames. Ash rained down on people and property at least 100 metres away.

Huge chunks of polystyrene-type material started to fall from Grenfell Tower, “like snow” according to one witness. The walls of the building could be heard creaking.

Residents of at least 30 nearby properties were told to evacuate because of the falling debris.

By late afternoon the confirmed death toll was 12, with 79 people in hospital, 18 of them with critical injuries.

“In my 29 years of being a firefighter, I have never ever seen anything of this scale. This is a major fire that has affected all floors of this 24 storey building, from the second floor upwards. This is an unprecedented incident.” said Dany Cotton, the London Fire Brigade Commissioner

Unprecedented, perhaps, but not necessarily unpredicted.

The Grenfell Action Group whose criticism of the apparent ‘stay put’ advice was echoed by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, seems to have been warning about a possible tragedy at the tower block for years.

It has said it repeatedly raised concerns about Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), which manages Grenfell Tower on behalf of Kensington and Chelsea Council.

Most recently and perhaps most worryingly, in November 2016 the action group had posted a blog that began: "It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the KCTMO, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants.”

The blog claimed that a major fire had only narrowly been avoided in 2013 when faulty wiring caused power surges. It claimed its warnings after that incident had fallen on deaf ears.

It referred to its “many” previous warnings about fire safety at the block, including concerns raised in 2013 about whether four fire trucks – the standard deployment for a tower block of that size – could fit in the Grenfell Tower emergency access zone.

“Unfortunately,” the blog concluded, “only an incident that results in serious loss of life will allow external scrutiny to occur that will shine a light on the practices. [We] predict that it won’t be long before the words of this blog come back to haunt the KCTMO management.”

A pile of clothes, sleeping bags and water donated to those caught up in the blaze

When The Independent contacted KCTMO about these warnings, a spokesman could add nothing to the statement of chief executive Robert Black, who had confined himself to saying the fire was “devastating, and the reports of injury and losses of life absolutely heartbreaking".

What caused the fire and what might have been done to prevent the heartbreaking loss of life were, it seemed, questions for another day.

“Currently,” said Mr Black, “We're focusing on helping those residents and London Fire Brigade is investigating the safety of the tower's structure, but we will issue a further statement in due course.”

There was a similar response from Kensington and Chelsea Council, which owns Grenfell Tower.

“We are not in a position to speculate on the allegations,” said a spokesman, “because the focus is on supporting the rescue and recovery operation.”

In the late afternoon, all that remained of Grenfell Tower was a charred carcass. From the blackened hulk, brown smoke rose into a blue sky.

The questions about this disaster would linger. The memories of those who witnessed it, and the grief of those who lost those they loved might never fade.

Politicians call for answers

The prime minister has promised a "proper investigation" into the fire.

But Labour politicians are calling for answers from the government.

"We need to know what reports were available, what information was given and what actions were taken." Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

A review of building regulations covering fire safety was promised by Prime Minister Theresa May's chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, last year, when he was a government minister, but has not been published.

Responding to earlier reports, the Department for Communities and Local Government said it was "simply not true" that a report has been "sat on".

Following the Lakanal House fire in south London in 2009, in which six people died, the coroner recommended the guidance relating to fire safety within the Building Regulations was simplified.

The government said this work was "ongoing".

The government also wrote to councils encouraging them to consider retro-fitting sprinklers, as recommended by the coroner, a statement said.

Southwark Council was fined £270,000 for breaching fire safety regulations after the Lakanal House blaze.

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