LONDON (CBS SF/AP) — At least 12 people were killed in a fire that engulfed nearly every floor of a 24-story high-rise apartment building in west London early Wednesday morning.
At least 79 people were also 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.”
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.
The manager of the public housing complex devastated by fire in west London says it is too early to speculate what caused the inferno and what contributed to its spread.
The KCTMO says it will cooperate fully “with all the relevant authorities in order to ascertain the cause of this tragedy.”
The organization has spent 10 million pounds ($12.8 million) refurbishing the building over the past two years. The project included installation of insulated exterior cladding, double-glazed windows and a communal heating system.
The organization said, “We are aware that concerns have been raised historically by residents. We always take all concerns seriously and these will form part of our forthcoming investigations. While these investigations continue with our cooperation, our core priority at the moment is our residents.”
The company was formed in 2006 as part a drive to let tenants manage their own homes. It manages 9,400 units under an agreement with the local council.
London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said, “There will be an investigation but at this stage I do not want to speculate about the cause of the fire or what has caused it to spread in the way that it did.”
Witnesses say the fire started on one side of the residential building and quickly spread, engulfing the entire structure.
Cameras captured an image of someone standing in a window with 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 said 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.”
Authorities say they expect the number of deaths to rise further as they systematically search the tower.
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