London’s fire commissioner on Thursday said it will be a miracle if any survivors are found even as firefighters try to douse the massive blaze that encapsulated the 24-storey residential tower block in west London which killed at least 17 people. In a statement to Reuters, London Police Commander Stuart Cundy said: “Sadly, I can confirm that the number of people that have died is now 17.” The fire was first reported from Grenfell Tower on the Lancaster West Estate in Latimer Road at 01:16 am (local time) on Wednesday. Around 600 people were reported to have been inside the building’s 120 flats, many of whom were asleep when the blaze ripped through the tower. Meanwhile, police said there’s nothing to suggest that the fire had anything to do with terrorism.
Firefighters worked persistently through the night to subdue the fire even as flames were still visible, more than 24 hours after the blaze started. Police have confirmed at least 17 deaths till now among the 600 residents believed to have lived in the tower. Authorities expect the death toll to rise as the building is combed during search operations.
Hospitals treated 74 people, of whom 18 remain in a critical condition. Firefighters at the scene admitted that the fire was unprecedented in its scale, given the speed with which it engulfed the tower in Kensington. Witnesses who were near the building said the raging fire climbed the 24-storey building within 15 minutes.
As per reports in AP, several parents threw their children from windows to save them from the blaze, while others jumped from high floors. Some survivors described having to clamber over charred bodies in corridors and stairways filled with smoke.
Then there were those who had followed official advice from the tower block’s management to ‘stay put’ and await rescue but died in the fire. Residents who defied the advice, darted their way down a single, central staircase, reportedly the building’s only escape route.
The probable cause of the fire was a fridge that exploded in a kitchen on the fourth floor. It’s important to note that residents of the building had repeatedly warned local officials that the Grenfell Tower was essentially a firetrap, adding that a “catastrophic event” was inevitable. Survivors said there were no sprinklers in the building. Many were woken by neighbours because no alarms had been activated.
For investigators, the focus seems to be the external coating on the building which reportedly enhanced the flames. Government ministers had previously warned about the fire risk of cladding as far back as 1999, reported the Daily Telegraph.