LonDON — A fire tore through a 24-story West London apartment building early Wednesday, killing at least 17 people and injuring more than 70. The cause is still under investigation.
How did the fire start?
The fire was first reported at 12:54 a.m. The site was Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, built in 1974, which housed at least 400 people in 120 apartments across 20 residential floors. Firefighters responded within six minutes. The blaze began on the fourth floor and spread to the top with a velocity and intensity that stunned the 250 firefighters who responded. Pockets of fire were still blazing on Thursday morning, more than 24 hours after the fire broke out.
Commissioner Dany Cotton of the London Fire Brigade said it was too early to speculate on the cause. Early news reports said that the fire may have been caused by the explosion of an electrical appliance, but nothing has been /confirm/ied. The police have ruled out terrorism.
How did it spread so quickly?
That is a major question for investigators. Usually, high-rise buildings are designed to contain a fire in its unit of origin, and in contemporary buildings, alarm systems and sprinklers are the norm.
Grenfell Tower was recently fitted with exterior aluminum cladding.
Such cladding, which often consists of aluminum sheets sandwiched over some kind of insulation, has been seen as a factor in past blazes, including three major high-rise fires in Dubai.
The United States and Britain have relatively tough regulations on the potential flammability of internal material used in cladding, but other factors — such as how panels are made and installed — could come into play.
Christopher Miers, the managing director of Probyn-Miers, a forensic architecture firm that examines buildings that are defective or fire damaged, said the panels “are safe to use, but they need to be properly used and they need to be well constructed and the building needs to be well managed.”
Matthew Needham-Laing, an architect and engineering lawyer who specializes in building defects, said the dark smoke that engulfed the building was a telltale sign of burning cladding material.
“It looks to me — and certainly a lot of people are saying the same thing — it looks to me like a cladding fire,” he said.The material in the cladding, he said, is “flame retardant, so it doesn’t catch fire as easily, but the temperatures you’re talking about are often 900, 1,000 degrees centigrade, and in those conditions, any material will generally burn, and they do, and the thick black smoke was sure to be from that insulation.”