Grenfell fire: UK to carry out inspections on other towers

Britain will inspect tower blocks across the country after a deadly blaze at a London apartment building raised fears of similar catastrophes in other high rises.

The inspections could involve hundreds of buildings, as London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced that checks would made be on tower blocks undergoing refurbishment.

Residents and community representatives want to know how Wednesday’s blaze was able to climb all the way up the 24-story Grenfell Tower so rapidly, trapping residents inside.

At least 17 people have been confirmed dead and that number is likely to rise, officials say. Some bodies may never be identified, according the London Metropolitan police.

Councilor Nicholas Paget-Brown told the BBC that sprinklers were not fitted inside the building during a 2015/16 refurbishment “because that would have delayed and made the refurbishment of the block more disruptive.”

He added that the cladding fitted to the outside of the tower — and blamed by many residents for helping spread the fire — would not be used again.

According to the Times of London, the cladding’s manufacturer said its use is banned in the US on high-rise buildings “because of the fire and smoke spread.”

Theresa May’s government criticized

As teams in London continue to carry out a recovery operation, British politicians have begun pointing the finger at their opponents.

One figure coming under scrutiny is Prime Minister Theresa May’s newly appointed chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, who served as housing minister until he lost his seat in last week’s snap general election.

Barwell had told lawmakers that the government intended to review fire safety standards following a deadly blaze at the Lakanal House high-rise building in south London in 2009, in which three women and three children died. In that case, exterior paneling helped the fire spread.

Jim Fitzpatrick, an MP with the main opposition Labour Party, slammed the Conservative-led government for shuffling its feet on the review, which has not yet been published.

He said that he and a parliamentary group that he chairs have been pushing for better safety regulations since the 2009 fire.

“This kind of event shouldn’t be happening, but it takes money and it takes political will,” Fitzpatrick, a former fire minister and firefighter, told CNN.

“Engineering solutions of suppression systems like fire sprinklers could have prevented this fire from taking hold and would have prevented anyone from dying … Nobody dies in fires in sprinklered buildings.”

The Department of Communities and Local Government rejected Fitzpatrick’s comments that the Conservative government had sat on the review, saying it was “simply not true” and that the work was ongoing.

“Following the Lakanal House fire, the coroner recommended the guidance relating to fire safety within the building regulations (be) simplified,” it said in a statement.

“The coroner also asked (the) government to write to councils encouraging them to consider retro-fitting sprinklers, which we did shortly after.”

Materials questioned

The country’s Policing and Fire Minister Nick Hurd said authorities were in the process of identifying towers that might be in a similar process of refurbishment.

They will “run a system of checks and inspections so that we can as quickly as possible provide assurance to people,” he said.

Inspections will likely look at any cladding used. Documents show that aluminium composite material (ACM) was used in Grenfell Tower’s rainscreen cladding. ACM is essentially a sandwich of two aluminium sheets with materials for insulation inside.

ACM panels often have a polyethylene core, which can be highly flammable. It is not yet clear whether this material was used in Grenfell Tower’s cladding.

Rydon, the company that carried out a recent refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, said the “project met all required building regulations.”

Online records show that it had hired Harley Facades Limited to install the “over-cladding with ACM cassette rainscreen.”

Ray Bailey — managing director at Harley Facades, a UK distributor which has since gone into administration — said the company was “not aware of any link between the fire and the exterior cladding to the tower.”