Around 12:54 am BST a 24 story high apartment complex in West London near Notting Hill, was engulfed in flames after a fire broke out on the second floor by an unknown cause; sources suggest all 24 floors were affected. The complex is said to house over 120 apartments and up to 600 residents. Shortly after the fire broke out, over 200 firefighters arrived on scene, equipped with 40 engines, 14 rescue vehicles, and other specialists. Surrounding apartments have been evacuated due to the high volume of falling debris.
Residents of the building said they had raised concerns about the building’s safety months before, but were duly dismissed by the Kensington and Chelsea city councils. They have also cited the aversion of a potentially large fire in 2013 that was due to a power surge. Such concerns have included the building’s single emergency exit, cramped hallway space and lack of emergency sprinklers. Some residents point out some of the materials have not been replaced since the 1970’s, the polyester powder-coated aluminum rain screen panels, which added to the strength of the fire.
Grenfell Tower was built in 1974, and in 2016 underwent an £11 million refurbishment to the first and second floor, in which exterior cladding, double glazing, and a new communal heating system were installed. Plans for the redevelopment also included the single emergency exit stairwell. However, much of the rest of the building, the other 20 floors, were left untouched during the renovations. Residents have also said that alarms were not triggered during the fire. Witnesses have said that they saw individuals jumping out of windows and heard that victims were sending messages to loved ones as they were trapped inside. The scale of this fire has been one of the largest the U.K. has experienced since 2009, when a fire struck Camberwell, London. The Metropolitan Police have suggested that the death toll is likely to increase. Nearby Londoners have been opening their homes to the victims as the tower continues to burn within the upper levels of the building.
British politicians have released statements of condolences throughout the day, including London Mayor Sadiq Khan, and Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn. Around 4:00pm BST, Prime Minister Theresa May chaired an emergency cross-party meeting to coordinate a response to the fire.