Shortly before 1:00 A.M. On June 14, 2017, a fire tore through West London’s 24-story Grenfell tower. 71 people were killed in what was the deadliest fire in Britain in more than a century.
The fire started in a Hotpoint brand fridge-freezer in a fourth floor apartment. The flames traveled from the kitchen and up the exterior side of the building, which was filled with 300 low-income residents. From there, the flames moved fast, engulfing the other sides of the building as well. Firefighters soon arrived, but the fire quickly reached the top floor. By 2 A.M., the fire was considered a “major incident.”
The death toll was increased dramatically because residents were following the building’s “stay put” fire policy. The unsuspecting victims believed their building was designed to contain a fire in an apartment until it could be put out. Many residents were told to stay in their apartments, as smoke filled the single narrow stairwell. Some ignored the policy and left the building anyway, while others moved upward to apartments further up from the fire. As the blaze spread around the sides of the building, it eventually made its way back inside several apartments. At 2:47 the stay put policy was abandoned and residents were told to try to leave if possible, but for many, it was too late. By 4:30 the building was completely engulfed. More than 200 fire fighters and 40 fire engines responded, but the fire took over 24 hours to finally burn out.
The city was filled with many emotions after the blaze. The final death count was still being sorted out, as the search for remains of victims was still ongoing. Anger over the blaze led to protests from people demanding more help for victims, and calling Prime Minister Theresa May’s response “flimsy.” People were insulted that May had met with fire fighters before the victims of the fire, too. To try to quell the rising frustration, the British government promised to allocate more money to support the victims, and get them into new housing as quickly as possible.
However, it wasn’t enough. Many felt the fire, and the 71 deaths, were completely avoidable. Documents obtained by BBC revealed that the cladding—or siding—on the building was extremely flammable, but was chosen by the council in charge of the building in order to save money on a refurbishment (they saved £293,000). The cheaper siding might have helped the council avoid costs, but it fed the fire. Similar buildings subsequently had their cladding tested and failed, too. A public inquiry was opened, and days later, the officials responsible for managing the apartment building resigned.
A BBC investigation also found that the fire department was not even properly equipped to fight the blaze. They found that low water pressure and radio problems hindered their efforts to fight the blaze, and equipment—like a tall ladder—was either lacking or had not arrived before the fire.