Firefighters on Wednesday battled one of London’s biggest fire disasters in recent memory as a rapid-moving blaze raced through a 24-story apartment building in West London. Hours after the fire was first reported, crews worked to rescue people trapped inside and count the number of dead.
“I can confirm six fatalities at this time,” Metropolitan Police commander Stuart Cundy said. “But this figure is likely to rise during what is a complex recovery operation over a number of days.”
Neighbors said they heard screams for help as the fire stormed through the floors, trapping residents who could be seen from windows flashing their cell phone lights in hopes of being rescued. Witnesses said some residents held small children from windows while other people jumped from the lower stories of the building.
Grenfell Tower, is in an ethnically diverse, densely populated West London’s North Kensington area. Officials said it contained about 140 apartments and was home to an estimated 500 people. Among those missing on Wednesday morning were a number of children.
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Why did fire spread so quickly?
As the building continued to burn into Wednesday morning, questions emerged on why the fire spread through the building so quickly in a city where a centuries-old history of disastrous fires has forced one of the world’s most stringent fire codes.
Fire investigators said it was too early to tell what started the fire or caused it to spread so rapidly.
Some residents evacuated from the building said they did not hear fire alarm. Some reported smelling burning plastic in the early moments of the fire, which broke out just before 1 a.m. Wednesday.
“It was horrendous. People up at their windows, screaming and the thing went up, it felt like seconds, it was just going up and up and up,” a resident who identified himself as Mikey, told the British Broadcasting Corporation. “I’ve never seen nothing like it. It was like something out of a Hollywood disaster movie,” he said.
Officials said 50 people were taken to hospitals with injuries that included smoke inhalation.
London commuters faced snarled traffic as police cordoned off streets and cleared the surrounding area. As the fire continued to burn ferociously for several hours Wednesday morning, there were concerns that the building might collapse.
Later Wednesday morning, as crews continued to make their way up the floors, officials said structural engineers were confident that would not happen. “Structurally it is safe for our crews to be in there working,” said Cotton.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan declared the fire a “major incident.”
Fire officials said it could be days before an investigation could yield any hint of what caused the fire.