LONDON (CBS SF/AP) — A fire engulfed nearly every floor of a high-rise apartment building in west London early Wednesday morning.
At least 12 people have died and at least 79 others were injured in the blaze at Grenfell Tower when the apartment building went up in flames with people still inside.
The fire started around 1 a.m. London time and spread quickly through the building. Forty fire engines and 200 firefighters and officers were called to the Grenfell Tower in Latimer Road, White City, in west London.
Videos posted to social media showed flames covering nearly the entire building in Lancaster West Estate.
But the Grenfell Action Group, which was formed by residents of the social housing tower seven years ago, had been repeatedly warning management and the public that the building would not be safe in the event of a fire.
According to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Grenfell Tower was built in 1974 and contained 120 homes. It is managed by Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), on behalf of the council.
In November 2016, the group posted, “It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders.”
KCTMO did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Hours after the fire, on June 14, the Grenfell Action Group posted, “ALL OUR WARNINGS FELL ON DEAF EARS and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time.”
The group posted links to eight blog posts that tenants had written over the years warning about hazardous conditions at the tower and describing their efforts to get the issues resolved.
The cause of the fire is not yet known. It’s also not clear whether everyone was evacuated in time.
A 2014 KCTMO newsletter issued during regeneration work said the building’s “longstanding ‘stay put’ policy stays in force until you are told otherwise. This means that (unless there is a fire in your flat or in the hallway outside your flat) you should stay inside your flat. This is because Grenfell was designed according to rigorous fire safety standards. Also, 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.”
It is unclear whether that policy was sufficient or whether is was updated since 2014.
Witnesses say the fire started on one side of the residential building and quickly spread, engulfing the entire structure.
There are reports some people got out, but others may have been trapped.
Hundreds of firefighters have been fighting the flames for hours at the tower.
Cameras captured an image of someone standing in a window with were no ladders to reach them and no obvious effort to rescue or evacuate them.
People on the ground were heard calling to those inside to shout out their unit number for rescuers.
Neighbors say they could hear people calling for help as the flames spread.
“We could hear people screaming ‘help me, help me” and flashing their phone lights to let people know they were there,” a witness said.
Another witness said, “When we first seen it, it was only a few floors and then it just spread up all the building and on to the adjacent side and then it just spread all across. It spread so quick.”
No word yet on any deaths, but it could be sometime before fire crews can get inside to search for survivors.
Assistant Commissioner Dan Daly says on the London Fire Brigade’s Facebook page that it was a large and very serious fire.
He said firefighters wearing breathing apparatus were working extremely hard in very difficult conditions to tackle the fire.
Ambulance officials say crews remain on scene as firefighters continue to battle the blaze in the building. Hours after the fire broke out, a plume of smoke could be seen from miles away.
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