LONDON: At least six people were killed on Wednesday (Jun 14) when a massive fire tore through a London apartment block in the middle of the night, with witnesses reporting terrified people had leapt from the 24-storey tower.
“I can confirm six fatalities at this time but this figure is likely to rise during what will be a complex recovery operation over a number of days,” police commander Stuart Cundy said in a statement, describing the fire as “truly shocking”.
More than 50 people were taken to hospitals, according to the London Ambulance Service.
The fire tore through all floors from the second to the top of the Grenfell Tower, where several hundred people lived.
Police said they received reports of a large fire at a block of flats in the Lancaster West Estate, in the north Kensington area, at 1.16am (0016 GMT). Within an hour, flames had engulfed the entire block and the fire raged through the night, with emergency crews still fighting the fire hours later in the morning.
More than 10 hours on, flames could still be seen inside the charred building, as thick, black smoke filled the sky.
Forty fire engines and 200 firefighters had been called to Grenfell Tower, which has 120 residential units and was built in 1974.
Images and videos from the scene have been circulating on social media showing the huge flames.
Witnesses reported hearing screaming from the upper floors as the flames rose, and one desperate resident could be seen waving a white cloth from a top floor window.
“Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus are working extremely hard in very difficult conditions to tackle this fire,” London Fire Brigade assistant commissioner Dan Daly said. “This is a large and very serious incident and we have deployed numerous resources and specialist appliances.”
“MATTER OF TIME BEFORE BUILDING COLLAPSES”
Witnesses said they heard screams for help from inside the building, The Guardian reported.
Actor and writer Tim Downie, who lives nearby, said: “It’s horrendous. The whole building is engulfed in flames. It’s gone. It’s just a matter of time before this building collapses”.
The BBC reported debris falling from the building and that explosions were heard along with the sounds of glass breaking.
Police were also clearing out nearby buildings and shut down a section of the A40 highway – a normally busy thoroughfare into London. A London Underground line passing the area near Latimer Road station was also shut down.
The cause of the fire is not known, the Fire Brigade said. But local residents had warned a year ago about a potential fire risk caused by rubbish being allowed to accumulate during improvement works.
“This matter is of particular concern as there is only one entry and exit to Grenfell Tower during the improvement works,” read a blog post by the Greenfell Action Group.
“The potential for a fire to break out in the communal area on the walkway does not bear thinking about as residents would be trapped in the building with no way out,” it said.