Grenfell inquiry video shows speed of fire's spread

Inquiry hears tower’s combustible exterior probably alight before first hoses arrived

 Grenfell Tower at Latimer Road in west London:  More than 50 firefighters will be called to give oral evidence to the inquiry, its opening evidence-taking session has been told. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

Grenfell Tower at Latimer Road in west London: More than 50 firefighters will be called to give oral evidence to the inquiry, its opening evidence-taking session has been told. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

 

The initial fire in flat 16 of Grenfell Tower had already ignited the building’s highly combustible, exterior cladding even before the first firefighters had begun using their hoses, the inquiry into the blaze has been told.

On its first formal day taking evidence, Richard Millett QC, lead counsel to the inquiry, took participants through the sequence of events beginning with the first emergency call reporting flames inside the fourth floor flat at 00.54 on June 14th last year.

Video film recorded during the initial stages of the fire were played to the inquiry in central London after warnings had been given that some of those present would find the images distressing and might want to leave the room.

Pictures taken from below Grenfell at about 01.09 showed flames already spreading outside the window of flat 16. “By this stage,” Millett said, “it’s probable that the fire had already taken hold of the exterior cladding.” The first firefighters did not start combating the source of the blaze inside flat 16 until about 01.18, he said.

Flaming liquids and burning debris were shown showering down from the seat of the fire shortly after it began as flames spread rapidly up and across the face of the building. By 01.26, the flames had climbed up to the top of the tower, with burning panels crashing down on to the ground.

Only at 2.47am, the advice from the London Fire Brigade changed from “stay put” to evacuate. The last occupant did not escape from the blazing building until 8.07am, the inquiry was told.

Fifty-two firefighters will give oral evidence: some of these fought their way up through the smoke and flames

Only 36 people managed to escape from the building after safety advice given by the London Fire Brigade to stay put was abandoned. Many more would have survived if the advice had been revoked earlier, some residents have told the inquiry. But Millett insisted the timing of that decision to change the advice would have to be explored in evidence.

Oral evidence

More than 50 firefighters will be called to give oral evidence to the Grenfell inquiry, its opening evidence-taking session has been told.

The inquiry heard that the Independent Office for Police Conduct is carrying out an inquiry into the role of police helicopters on the night of the fire. It is looking at whether their presence may have encouraged residents to flee to the upper floors in hope of rescue from the roof. The IOPC investigation is also looking at whether police helicopters could have worsened the fire, Millett said.

Dany Cotton, the commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, told the inquiry in a written statement: “I have never seen a building in which the whole of it was on fire, nobody has ever seen that. It was incredible, it was so alien to everything I had ever seen.”

On the first formal day hearing legal submissions, Millett laid out the future course of its investigation into the blaze which claimed 72 lives.

The inquiry is the largest established in Britain in terms of the number of core participants. So far, 533 individuals have been granted that status as well as 29 organisations. Two of the adult core participants have been anonymised.

Millett listed a number of questions that the inquiry intends ultimately to answer, including: how was it that combustible material was used? How did so many people sign the refurbishment as safe? Was saving money put before saving lives?

But first of all, he said, the inquiry must deal with the events of the night and how the fire progressed in what has been termed phase one of its investigation.

Fifty-two firefighters will give oral evidence: some of these fought their way up through the smoke and flames, and some were commanders who controlled the rescue operation.

Millett also revealed 135 written statements have so far been taken from survivors and residents, including 60 from people who escaped the tower on the night. Five reports by retained experts were also released on Monday.

Latest refurbishment

Using detailed graphics, Millett explained the layout of the area around Grenfell Tower, the water hydrants available to fire engines and the internal structure of the building, which was completed in 1974.

Grenfell Tower had a reinforced concrete core, reinforced concrete floors and reinforced concrete columns

After its latest refurbishment in 2016, the 67m-high building contained 129 flats. It is owned by the local authority, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Since 1996, however, it has been operated by a local tenant management organisation.

Looking inside the tower, Millett showed the plans of each floor with staircase access. On the top floor was a metal gate, which prevented access to the roof.

Grenfell Tower had a reinforced concrete core, reinforced concrete floors and reinforced concrete columns. Pre-cast “biscuits” were used to face the columns.

Planning permission for the refurbishment was first sought in 2012. The project was eventually awarded to Rydon Maintenance. The architect was Studio E. A firm called Exovia Warrington provided specialist fire engineering advice, and the new design was signed off by the local council on July 7th, 2016.

The overcladding on the refurbishment was an aluminium rainscreen, a Reynobond 55PE. The 3mm-thick slice of polyethylene was bonded on its outside by two 0.5mm aluminium skins.

“Polyethylene is combustible, which melts and drips when exposed to heat,” Millett explained. “It can also flow. It provides a fuel source for a growing, spreading fire. It melts at between 130 to 135 degrees and ignites at 377.” – Guardian

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