Grenfell Tower Death Toll Rises to 17; U.K. Government Is Criticized

Jun 15, 2017 · 140 comments
Chris Dowd (Boston)
The government should be scrutinized! Are you kidding me? Obviously that tower's sprinkler system failed- it's fire doors were either not there or utterly below standards. They us no exvuse for that fire but human negligence,
tennisguy09 (Texas)
I cannot believe such a tragedy occurred in 2017.

Fire protection has come such a long way, there is absolutely no reason people should die in a high-rise building fire (or any fire, for that matter).

While sprinklers may not have extinguished the fire, they most likely would have controlled it until firefighters arrived and could put it out completely. And it is almost certain if a sprinkler system had been in place, the fire would not have leapt to other floors. Famous fires in the U.S. taught us sprinklers keep fires from leaping up the outside of high-rise buildings.

People have said sprinklers are too expensive or alarms have to be constantly monitored and that is too expensive as well. No modern-day fire safety equipment is too expensive to forego and potentially lead to the loss of life. Second, losing an entire building to a fire is much, much more expensive than installing sprinklers or alarms.

None of this is rocket science or too difficult to implement. The danger of fires in buildings has been around since the beginning of time. Fortunately, with today's technology, we can notify people early, extinguish or control fires quickly, and prevent loss of life and property destruction. Too many lives have been lost and this lesson has been learned too many times for this to keep happening. We can do better. We must do better.
Greg Gerner (Wake Forest, NC)
We know how the British government protects its citizens from foreign terrorism. How do the British people protect themselves from the economic terrorism inflicted on them by the Tory government? What you see here is economic terrorism in action: Austerity for the rabble, tax cuts for the well to do. Rule, Britannia.
David (Flushing)
Here is advice for residential tenants from the NYC Fire Department:
'If you live in a NON- FIREPROOF BUILDING and there is a fire, it is usually
better (safer) to leave the building immediately."
"If you live in a FIREPROOF BUILDING and there is a fire, it is usually better (safer) to stay inside rather than entering smoke-filled hallways, especially if the fire is above your apartment."
Ostinato (Düsseldorf)
Fire prevention, fire fighting, and protection of human life and safety are prescribed in laws that must be observed and enforced by knowledgeable persons in various authorities.

Use of suitable materials, means of egress through fire protected stair towers, smoke extraction, fire alarms, standpipes for firefighting, and an adequate authority approval and supervision system are elements of a building culture that seem to have been missing all the way down the line. It appears to me that the fault lies not with individual persons or authorities, but with the entire system. Until this is corrected and brought into line with internationally recognized standards, more such incidents could occur.

As an internationally working architect I have always felt the British observation of certain building codes to be rather casual, building technology outdated. I see what in other countries would be code violations everywhere.
Robert H Cowen (Fresh Meadows)
What are New York City's laws regarding central fire alarm systems and sprinkler systems in high rise buildings?
WillyD (New Jersey)
What heartbreak. One must assume that anyone "unaccounted for" is most likely lost in the fire. Then you have the injured. When you're done with those, you have a slew of people who lost everything and are now displaced or even homeless.

What heartbreak.
Morgan (Medford NY)
The renovation underway involved removing parts of the structure that prevented fire from traveling outside of floor of origin, in that situation there should have been monitors on site 24/7 to alert the residents if a problem arises, the management of this building were derelict in this crucial life threatening protection. retired FDNY
scientella (palo alto)
“Those ’70s buildings, many of them should be demolished,” he said. “They have not got easy fire escapes. They have got no sprinklers..."

There is nothing wrong with the 70s buildings, built out of solid fire resistant concrete and with fire escapes which will do the job as planned.

There is something wrong with
1. Applying this toxic, lethal, combustible, and for that matter ugly, cladding to the outside of these buildings.
2. Telling people to stay in their apartments. This is madness. In the event of fire get out ASAP. Just shut the door behind you to contain the fire somewhat. The fire escapes are concrete and will last for a couple of hours.
Morgan (Medford NY)
It is normal to have residents remain in there apartments under normal conditions in a properly constructed building, unfortunately this building was under renovation where they removed structures to prevent fire from extending to different floors, under this condition there should have been monitors on site 24/7 to alert residents to any problem, failure to enact this resulted in a tragedy that was avoidable. in buildings with many occupants where residents are exiting they can interfere with fire personnel attempting to reach the fire thus under certain conditions it is better have residents remain in the apartments. RETIRED FDNY
Aristotle Gluteus Maximus (Louisiana)
Smoke kills most fire victims. A concrete stairwell may not be enough.
Jts (Minneapolis)
"Not required in buildings built before 2006"....gee how many of thousands of buildings is that?
BCS (chicago)
This is why my city, Chicago, has such strict building codes. I've been working in architecture and construction for over 10 years now and we are constantly asked by customers why they have to go through "all this red tape" to build something as small as say, a deck. But this is exactly why, case and point.
Aristotle Gluteus Maximus (Louisiana)
Chicago has strict building codes because of Mrs O'Leary's cow.
Nadir (New York)
Wow that entire building burned for so long and it didn't collapse. They must have stronger steel in the UK than we use in the US.
Boris F (US)
Another "expert" and specialist "builder" digging at 9/11
Nasty Man aka Gregory (Boulder Creek, Calif.)
But for British steel… And anyway it's iron that it's constructed of with a highly flammable aluminum siding probably channeled the heat up and it went upas fast as a Roman candle whatever those burn like
Ellienyc (New York, NY)
London's fire brigade commissioner, Dany Cotton, is a woman? That's what it appears judging from that photo caption. I am always totally amazed when I see how much more advanced other world cities are compared to NY when it comes to women in the PD and FD. I am still simply awestruck if I see just one woman on a truck in NY and can only imagine the kind of razzing, if not harrassment, she gets from NY's entrenched Irish/Italian male FD mafia. A couple of the local trucks shop at my supermarket and one day I saw the guys razzing an hispanic guy on their crew as they shopped. Can only imagine what they'd do to a woman.
amv (new york, ny)
I believe the Oakland fire chief was a woman. I remember that from the warehouse fire articles
Will (<br/>)
Yes. The head of the Fire Brigade (FD) and Metropolitan Police (PD) for London are both women.
Erik Van Dort (San Diego)
When we get giddy about gender issues in the face of what appears to be a very large-scale tragedy in the initial phases, I seriously question peoples priorities of what matters most in our lives. I guess we now live in an era where we look upon victims of tragedies as unavoidable collateral damage, much like our 'second amendment' people cherishing their views over all else.
Terry (America)
Many people are insinuating that this building's cladding was a type installed for aesthetic, neighborhood purposes at the expense of safety. It's a catchy idea, but who has any facts to back it up? Many of us would be the first to complain about a crummy highrise lowering our property values, and we would assume that any materials used to improve its appearance would also meet the fire code.
scientella (palo alto)
This is more than conjecture. The same cladding has been directly responsible for fires which spread in the same way after a small spark in France, Saudi Arabia and France. The same brand of cladding even. Toxic, hideous and lethal.
Ellienyc (New York, NY)
That type of cladding and insulation has been linked to fires in other countries, and one expert interviewed in the Times suggested that how those materials are installed is critical.
Rubout (Essex Co NJ)
Maybe, if sprinkler systems were required in every residence, single family homes included, the loss of property and death from fires could be greatly reduced. This could be partially paid for by the reduction in expensive fire trucks and equipment. Fire department efforts could be redirected to environmental and safety issues.
Nasty Man aka Gregory (Boulder Creek, Calif.)
California has some pretty strict rules in their building codes; anything New and or a bag,needs a fire suppression system sprinklers etc.
Katie (<br/>)
The number of fires in the U.S. has dropped dramatically in recent decades, yet the number of firefighters in most departments has remained level and the cost of maintaining fire departments has skyrocketed. For example:
Michael C (Brooklyn.)
The single staircase in the tower ran the HEIGHT of the building, not the length.

Even with two internal exit stairs, or fire escapes outside [generally impractical and dangerous on tall buildings], when the exterior surface of a building is burning, escape is difficult, especially if the previous advice was to stay in your 'fire resistive" apartment.
TMK (New York, NY)
The sole purpose of flammable insulation sandwiched between the panels is to improve energy efficiency: prevent outside heat or cold from impacting the building's own heating and cooling, aka efficiency. The outside metal panels, on the other hand, have a very specific purpose: prevent moisture from getting in. Meaning one is a requirement of junk climate science, and the other, preventing moisture damage, a requirement of common sense.

Believe it or not, blind faith in climate "science" is to blame. More energy efficiency, less greenhouse emissions, how can any political council say no to that? When in fact, they could have gone with cheaper panels minus the fire hazard, had they been aware of course, and if it was politically correct to question.

Well, game's up for climate junkies. The proper thing to do now is to ban any and all panels where flammable materials are sandwiched between fire-resistant panels (exist and legal worldwide, including the U.S.). And what Britain needs to do next is to exit Paris.

Seriously, energy wackos riding high on big data are to blame here. Don't stay put, do like Don, ditch, dump.
Alan Jennerich (Kansas City)
It does not matter how the fire started. What matters is that in London it is apparently legal to have a 24 story apartment tower with no fire alarm system or sprinkler system. Sprinkler systems are expensive, fire alarm systems are not. This building was recently remolded. How could a fire alarm system not have been installed then or as part of the original construction?
Nasty Man aka Gregory (Boulder Creek, Calif.)
£ ($)
Jay Roberts (Charlotte)
Let's blame government. Yes. Good idea.
A Yank in the UK (London)
Yes, let's blame them when it is their fault. In 2005 a new law on fire safety was passed in the UK. It moved fire safety considerations, including the crucial Fire Risk Assessment, from the Fire Brigade to individual landlords. There is no doubt in my mind that this was done to cut government spending, and to move the flow of money from the public to the private sector. Certainly, some firefighters retired and opened up companies to do the assessments on behalf of landlords, but there was no requirement to use these companies. In fact, there was no mechanism to be sure the FRAs were done, or done right. It turned out that the FRA for the large block I live in wasn't produced until six years after the law went into effect, although at least annual inspections were arranged at the request of the building manager. But there was no way to enforce the law. The Fire Brigade recommended the installation of an alarm system but couldn't insist, and the landlord simply claimed it was too expensive and not really effective. We also have a "stay put" policy--but I'm from New York, and know better than to stay in a burning building. Fire safety cannot be left to the unqualified; it must be the job of qualified professionals with the resources and authority to back it up.
bill d (nj)
This kind of reminds me of an old Monty Python episode, where an architect designs a block of apartment flats that is supposed to be fire proof, and the model goes up in flames.....

I suspect what will happen is they will find out this is a combination of neglect (it sounds like the apartments were mostly immigrants, likely low income), bureaucratic ineptitude and likely they will find that safety and construction codes were violated or overlooked. It is sad it takes a tragedy like this to cause change, hopefully this will, so at least something good comes out of it.
Julia (<br/>)
I live in a New York City apartment building built in the 1920s. It, and others like it, are remarkably fire-resistant. How often do you hear of such a building experiencing a fire that costs lives? Almost never. It's sad and terrible that we have moved backward in the world. High-rise apartment buildings built 50 years after mine are vulnerable to fire and loss of life. This is shameful. There's no reason for this except a callous indifference to the lives of the poor.
Hugh (LA)
High-rise public housing? No central alarm or sprinkler system? When did England become a developing nation?
Tracy (Southern California)
This type of building and housing is not unique in London. I grew up visiting my grandmother who lived in Edmonton, north of London, in a council flat. It was a huge high-rise, with a lift that reminded me of a freight elevator. We often had to wait to go up/down because it was the only elevator for the whole building. Lots of grey concrete, modular, and depressing. Her building had balconies, which people sometimes jumped from. The whole building sat atop a market; green grocer, bakery, all types of shops. It never felt safe. I wonder if this building had the same type of set-up and if the fire could have started in a business?
mjb (Tucson)
Absolutely terrible tragedy. After living through two fire alarms on the ninth floor of a loft building above a large department store, and having to race down three flights of stairs per floor, I will NEVER live in a high-rise again unless it is on the first or second floor.

I just do not trust that no human error will occur. Kids in such a building? Pets? Nearly impossible to corral and move quickly out. It was terrifying, and thank goodness both fires were contained within the apartment where it started, with very little damage. Both related to cooking.

I am so very sad for the people in that tower in London. Horrible, so sad, they did not deserve to die or be burned while escaping. Terrifying. May their families and friends find comfort, somehow, somewhere, and may the displaced by taken care of by England.
Zelmira (Boston)
There are many homes in the UK in which doors to the outside are locked with a key that is then removed from the lock, hung on a nearby hook, or worse, put in a drawer. I have pleaded with British friends to keep keys in the locks or replace their locks with ones that don't require that a key be retrieved from elsewhere, however close by. Most of my entreaties have been ignored or scorned with the assertion that there are fewer fires in Britain than in the US. That may well be, but such responses seem shortsighted.
Ami (Portland Oregon)
Hopefully out of this tragedy will come meaningful change rather than blame. Clearly the remaining buildings need to be inspected from top to bottom. Fire alarms and sprinkles need to be installed. Concerns from residents need to be taken seriously going forward. In time an investigation will identify what went wrong and what needs to be addressed.

In the meantime let's commend the community for working together. Lives were saved by the young men who went through the building warning neighbors of the fire. Bystanders saved children being dropped from windows. The local mosques opened up to provide shelter as did other churches once the scope of the tragedy was clear. People came together and took care of each other.

The British people have shown us through the recent string of tragedies how strong they are. We should all hope that our community would show such strength in the face of tragedy.
Majortrout (Montreal)
Oh, oh!
I hear the Republicans getting an idea from this terrible disaster.
Wait till Trump and the Republicans start to deregulate the rules governing apartment buildings, all commercial and residential buildings. No more insurance on accidents, no more fire regulation, no more standards to the construction of buildings, and no more safety and checks to all buildings.

Then we'll start to see the real effects of the heartless Trumpsters!
Nasty Man aka Gregory (Boulder Creek, Calif.)
Darn regulations it saves lives; save money and do away with all those regulations ....exactly!
Aristotle Gluteus Maximus (Louisiana)
So it's the Brits who are backwards.
Terry (America)
No, it's everyone except the first person singular.
Lance (New York, NY)
While it's still too early to know how this fire started, or how it grew so rapidly to such ferocity, one avenue of inquiry will obviously be the materials used in recent renovations to the structure. Where were the materials manufactured, and was cost a key factor in their use?

At this early date, there is something about the London fire that reminds me of a massive fire at a Rem Koolhass-designed highrise hotel in Beijing a few years ago. That hotel wasn't even finished yet. Sparks from a fireworks show landed on the building and the entire thing went up in flames. It is very hard to find online details about that fire today, but I imagine that the problem was at the manufacturing level on the materials used. I imagine that a contractor cut corners to maximize its profit.
Yoandel (Boston, Mass.)
"LONDON — Under pressure from critics, Prime Minister Theresa May ordered a public inquiry on Thursday..." One of the worst fire incidents in the UK's history, and it takes public pressure for an inquiry?

Whoa, things are worst in the UK than you might think.
Ondewelle (London)
Oh, I think the meaning was she's under pressure generally. I don't think there was ever any suggestion that an enquiry would not be held.
Will (<br/>)
Agree. There would be an enquiry into this whether May ordered it or not.
Rich (Pennsylvania)
No sprinklers on a high rise? Absurd. Today's International Building Code requires them. These buildings from the 70s, must have been grandfathered. They all should be retrofitted with sprinklers, hard wired interconnected smoke detector/alarm systems, emergency lighting, lit exit signs, Gamewells connected to the fire department, and fully fireproof stairways.
Marol Kisan (Atlanta GA)
In this article it states that centralized alarm systems were not required for the building; instead each apt had an individual smoke detector. Yet one interviewee states he was woken by his neighbor's fire detector whilst many others were woken by their neighbors. This leads me to wonder whether residents received any information about the use of their alarms, whether the alarms were tested at least annually as recommended, had working batteries in them or indeed any batteries in them at all?!? This tragedy should be a wake up call to everyone in the world, whether living in homes or apts, no matter how many stories tall, to now check your own fire escape routes, have a family plan, check your alarm systems and batteries, and have up-to-date fire extinguishers in your kitchen and a working flashlight in every room. Teach your children what to do and don't forget your pets in your escape plan. We have a regrettable teachable moment from this horror; don't waste it.
Thistime (London)
Please NYT, your headline should state that well over a hundred are feared dead, a high proportion of them children. The local and national government and even the press's natural stance in the UK is to play down this tragedy just as they play down risks throughout UK society. It's part of the culture and applies to not only fire protection, but to pollution, the NHS, road safety, to name just a few examples.
Russel (NY)
As I'm going through the comments from people here and realizing what a world of differences between people who comments here and in yahoo. Praying for all the victim of this tragic event, does not matter where you from but a loss of a life, black or white, Christian or Muslim is a loss of humanity. We should be doing everything possible to prevent such a tragedy. May the creator bless you all.
Publius (NYC)
Yes, we should be doing, not praying, which is useless. If prayers worked, things like this wouldn't happen.
Don (Florida)
Based on some pictures in then British press, the victims appear to be from minority groups. I can't help but wonder if elitism and racism played a role in the nonchalance of authorities when they were warned about conditions in the building.
Ralph M (Vancouver, BC)
That doubt crossed my mind as well. Notwithstanding, you can bet they'll be a criminal investigation and lawsuits to follow. The "buck" has to stop somewhere.
John C. (Florida, USA)
@Bruce1253 there is a way to deal with this issue. NYT won't let me post a URL, so you can search for "building data recorder" need the quotes.

No one really cares though....
Kat (<br/>)
One cannot look at that skeleton of a building and not be cooked to the core. My heart and thoughts are with them.
Stephan (California Bay Area)
I'm horrified to see such a disaster happen and in a first world 'developed' country at that. There really is no excuse. As an engineer, it's pretty obvious what went wrong here... And yes there is ONE main issue.

Starting with a little background, buildings like this have been around since the 1970's, and residential fires in an apartment due to any number of causes (appliance failure, gas leak, kitchen fire, smoking in bed, etc, etc) are a fact of life and I'm sure the London Fire brigade sees them on an almost daily basis in a city the size of London. All evidence suggests that this fire falls into that 'typical category' (I read one report speaking of an 'exploding' fridge which may be the root cause).

What changed? Was it exceptional weather conditions. No. Was it a horribly slow response by the fire department or failure to inform them in a timely fashion. No. Was it completely blocked stairwells so no egress. No again..

In fact I would claim the 1970's era building codes worked reasonably well given the track record to date. Could they be better. Definitely! Sprinklers and centralized alarms are all good things. But containment worked and these were deemed bonus features.

The killer is the modern cladding. Cladding high rise buildings with obviously flammable material defeats containment. This cladding MUST go or this is just the first of many such tragedies... (and yes there have been warning shots).
Bill (Virginia)
See NFPA 285 in the USA.
Navigator (Brooklyn)
A single staircase for egress? What a travesty. I had always thought that two means of egress from every floor was a universal standard for high-rise buildings. Buildings like this one with only one staircase and no sprinklers need to be demolished or totally rebuilt with new fire rated corridors and double egress on each floor.
JustAnotherNewYorker (Manhattan)
The UK building code, believe it or not, does not require a second stairwell or other secondary means of egress (e.g., fire escape) in a highrise building
magisnotreal (earth)
Something about this tragedy really affects me. Those poor people tried for years to get proper service from their government and got nowhere because they were not rich.
It seems like a perfect metaphor for the powerlessness of the common man in the face of the deregulating capitalists among us for the last 40 years.
magisnotreal (earth)
The most awful part here, is that it seems the cladding they put up to make the projects, which are in a gentrifying section of London, more visually appealing to the wealthy neighborhood it is in, may be the main contributing factor to the fire climbing the building s it did instead of staying in one or two units as it should have.
Rolf (NJ)
The UK has been largely Socialistic for a long time so Capitalism probably very little to do with this!
magisnotreal (earth)
Rolf, You should do some research. The British are the most rampantly rapacious unregulated capitalists there are. The changes to our system since reagan were largely due to them and their influence. The thing that has done us the most economic harm were the changes made so that investors can control a company and so that investors can remove money from the states. Both changes made possible the destruction of our profitable perfectly fine industry to export it to Asia.

What they do at home has no effect on this. What they do at home is not the sort of place you seem to imagine. the "socialist" policies they have provide bare minimums for anyone who does not earn enough money for self sufficiency. If you think about how harsh welfare, VA benefits and other help for the poor is here you have a good idea of what the common folks there get "for free". It aint no picnic.
The Brits freely do in places outside Britain things they would never do in Britain.
They are not Socialist as you think, they are Monarchists whom have gotten the monarch to allow some democracy and whose government provides services they have to to prevent riots in the streets. That's not Socialism that's something else.
M O (Kyoto)
Paula: the tragedy was not caused by wealthy Republicans, it was exacerbated by cladding added to the building for environmental and aesthetic considerations.
Matt Morris (Surrey, UK)
If the apartment on the 4th floor where the fridge exploded had sprinklers then maybe this fire wouldn't have happened. The cladding on the outside of the building did seem to act as a chimney (made of aluminium and plastic!). The codes here in the UK are not clear enough plus the building was run by the local municipal authority who have been squeezed of cash by central uk government and, in my opinion, are no longer adequately scrutinizing fire inspections - which are all outsourced to private companies.
David (Flushing)
Refrigerators do not normally "explode" as we all know. As an old lab worker, I am aware that the keeping of flammable substances such as alcohol in a unit is considered unsafe. My guess is that someone had vodka that was either open or spilled and this detonated.
CB (New York, NY)
See the tenants' blog re: power surges.
Mike Marcus (Washington DC)
One key reason for Brexit is the view of the EU as a "nanny state". While there may be true in some areas, since this tragedy it may show that EU fire safety standards are lax. This happened while UK was an EU member.

We lived in France a decade ago and I was puzzled why there was not alarm systems in our 7 floor apartment building. On my first trip back to US I got a battery powered smoke/carbon monoxide detector and brought it back to Paris. At the time they were unobtainable at hardware stores although required for homes in many US jurisdictions. Since the building was 100 years old there was not sprinkler.

I now live in a US county thatrequires sprinklers in all new residential construction, but this multifamily dwelling in London had a major rehab recently and had no sprinklers? Our county also requires smoke detectors and has frequent reminders of their importance.

Maybe in the fire protection area UK needs more, not less, of the "nanny state" to prevent such tragedies. Maybe the EU should be less of a nanny in some areas and be more aggressive in fire safety?
Maureen (Boston)
The US does an excellent job with building code safety.
Ahmed Bouzid (Washington, DC)
"Should older buildings — Grenfell Tower was completed in 1974 — have to be retrofitted with sprinklers and alarm systems?"

And that's a question? Really?

A better question, even if a rhetorical one: Should we have more or should we ave less government regulation when it comes to matters that pertain to the safety and the welfare of the people?
Richard Bartley (Wales)
This yet another example of the class divide in Britain. Had that been a private housing complex greater measures would have been taken to ensure its safety.

There was no sprinkler system installed - even though the London Fire Service recommended one.

There was no building wide fire alarm (isn’t that just incredible?)

The materials used to recently clad the building were badly designed (a similar building in Dubai had the same cladding and a fire storm erupted in that building in exactly the same way).

Fire safety notices had been put up a few weeks before the fire stating that in the event of a fire, residents should stay in their flats (apartments), which was exactly the wrong advice to give.

The local residents committee warned Kensington Borough Council a year before the fire this week that the fire standards weren’t good enough but their complaints were ignored. The committee even said that changes will only take place in all these type of housing complexes when a major disaster happens. How prophetic.

The building was full of lower class Londoners. Their lives don’t count it seems.
Ian_M (Syracuse)
Britain has a "one in two out" law on regulations just like the executive order that Donald Trump signed. Did loosening regulations allow substandard construction? Did it allow the company that owns this building to delay improving fire escapes or sprinkler systems?

Cutting red tape may be great for business owners but it's probably deadly for their customers.
Hank Gold (<br/>)
How could a residential building not have sprinklers and smoke alarms??
LondonTim (London)
This is the price of de-regulation and austerity. Wrapping an ugly building in a shiny new cover was flagged as a risk, but governments refused to tighten the regulations to deal with it (despite repeated urging by experts and coroners from previous similar tragedies). And when urged to require old tower blocks to have sprinklers (like new ones) the Minister responsible refused to act, saying "'We believe that it is the responsibility of the fire industry, rather than the Government" (Brandon Lewis, 2014). The Local Government Council (which owns this building) was not allowed to increase local taxes or even borrow money to do it, because Central Government have placed a cap of how much Local Councils can spend. Central Governments chose to save money and put poor people's lives at risk. Local Government chose to spend £10m on a shiny new cover (benefitting the rich neighbours who look at it), but did not choose to put in a sprinkler system ...
Bob (Coventry CT)
Only in the UK would the national government be blamed for a fire in a major city. It is the mayor who should be blamed if this is going to be a political game. But to be honest, this is no ones fault except the owners of the building, and they will claim they dont get enough rent from the occupants to do any better. Nobody wins when this kind of thing happens.
magisnotreal (earth)
The national government is responsible for making sure the Counties and Councils are run properly. The two Councils that are responsible for running these projects fobbed it off on a private contractor who did slipshod work to maximize profit in good British form. The tenants have been complaining for years about the fire hazards and broken down conditions. They were ignored because as you clearly imply they were poor. They did a recent refurbishing job on the buildings apparently adding a new heat system and new cladding on the outside of the building to make it more visually appealing to the gentrifying neighborhood it is in. It seems the cladding may have been the main contributor to the fire climbing the building along with the sprinkler system not working.
A Council is a government agency like a City or County government here. The Projects or "Council Housing" are government owned buildings.
Thistime (London)
Actually it is the National government that watered down fire regulations and postponed a review for almost a decade.
Momco (London)
you can hardly blame Sadiq Khan for this, he has been mayor for less than a year. Boris Johnson, the former mayor however, now the Foreign Secretary (!) is in the Government which is responsible for a sustained austerity programme, cutting public spending including the budgets of local authorities. I have been a health professional in Kensington and Chelsea for over a decade, I know that building and I know the contempt in which the government, local and national, hold for poor people in this area, many of whom have been shipped out from their homes to cheaper areas by the council due to benefits caps. The rich are listened to and the poor ignored. We are all horrified but also furious.
paula (new york)
What a tragedy. And everytime we read about the Republican plan to eliminate "burdensome regulations" they mean they don't have a problem with Americans living under unsafe conditions which their wealthy donors will never have to see.
M O (Kyoto)
It has been widely reported the explosiveness of the fire was driven by panels installed to comply with "green" regulations.
HuzzahGuy (Cleveland, OH)
Are you aware that this apartment build was built and owned by the government? You can bet that privately own buildings are run much better than this one.
J. Stafford Willington (Evanston, IL)
I don't think critics of "burdensome regulations" are referring to building codes. I have never heard of building codes referred to as burdensome. I don't know why some are trying to make this British tragedy into some sort of ideological weapon.
Bruce1253 (San Diego)
Time for an 'X Prize' on how to deal with high rise fires in building that don't have sprinklers or whose sprinklers are not working. This is a world wide problem. Let's find a way to deal with it.
Sure, it's called tear down and build again with sprinklers.
Bruce1253 (San Diego)
Its not going to happen in poor parts of major cities and in poor countries. So what do we do? Write these people off? We have to deal with real world conditions, which mean high rise buildings with no sprinklers and where the tenants defeat the safety systems (block open the doors to the stairwells for better ventilation).

How do we give these people a chance to survive a fire? How can we knock the fire down to get people out? That is the problem an X Prize competition would help solve.
Lisa Fremont (East 63rd St.)
"Under pressure from critics, Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday ordered a public inquiry into the lethal fire ...."

whoa! Am I getting this right? May has to be pressured to order an inquiry?
The UK's decline continues apace. And integrity is the first casualty.
Marge Keller (Midwest)

"centralized fire alarm systems were not required for residential buildings since they required constant monitoring to be effective. Grenfell Tower did not have one."

I do not side with this decision by the Housing Committee of the London Assembly on any level. I have but one question for them - just how many lives must be lost before preventive measures are required and put in place?

For whatever it is worth, I know a lot of people who do not have smoke alarms in their own homes because they either don't think a fire will ever happen or if one does, they will get out in time. Whenever any of our friends either move to a new home or apartment, our first "house warming gift" to them is a smoke detector. How many times must it be said that these devices really can save a life. This entire ordeal is unbelievable and so unnecessary.
Aristotle Gluteus Maximus (Louisiana)
That's not really an accurate assessment of general fire alarms. Most American buildings have pull station fire alarms like every one has in school. Pull the fire alarm and the whole building is alerted. Such systems are not constantly monitored.
nerdrage (SF)
Remind your friends that most deaths in fires occur because of smoke inhalation. They can't "get out in time" if they die in their sleep.
mkm (nyc)
Folks the story here is the fire spread up the outside of the building entering floor to floor through open windows or windows that failed do to the fire. Such a spread would overwhelm a sprinkler systems and make external fire escapes useless. Staying put in a concrete building is suggested because the fire will not travel up floor to floor inside. No one allowed for the fire traveling up the outside of the building.
Oscar (Wisconsin)
Good points, but who in the world thought that one means of escape was enough. Two internal stairwells might have made a big difference, and that's a fairly old requirement in the US.
Rubout (Essex Co NJ)
Thank you! Thank you for an analysis of the situation based on available information. Thank you for not blaming: Republicans, Trump, rich people; deregulation; anti-environmentalist; etc etc .. . Thank you for a calm logically comment and not the knee jerk comments so often listed.
sm (new york)
No but you just did, and it has no place here , this was a terrible tragedy , as a New Yorker I cannot forget the horror of people jumping from the WTC to avoid burning to death , and the fact it was played out in real time , was beyond the mind processing the unreality of it all. Seeing the Grenfell tragedy on the news was equally horrifying , knowing people were trapped and couldn't get out. My heart felt sympathy goes out to the survivors and to the friends and families of those who died.
Rich K (Illinois)
I have the impression that these high rises are owned by the government. If so, that provides many answers. If the buildings were privately owned, fire regulations would have been passed and enforced by the government that the buildings meet strict requirements. This would be done regardless of the cost to the owner. But if the buildings are owned by the government, decisions and changes are at a snail's pace because everyone wants to take care of their special interests and because of complaining about a waste of tax dollars.
bored critic (usa)
what facts led to you conclusion? or did you just make it up to "fuel the fire"?
stephen (NYC)
The way people are describing this building makes it sound like a third world high rise. My apartment building in NYC (a former factory to be specific) was built in 1920 and is a fireproof building, just like modern NYC construction which means that staying in place is the safest thing to do. It also has a sprinkler system. And it was built almost 100 years ago....
D. Morris (London)
@Stephen - what this article and the one before it doesn't really make clear for American readers is that the tower is social housing. As such it was built very cheaply - and this is by 1974 standards! You'd be shocked how many dumpy towers like this exist in London. The cladding was put on to make it look like less of an eyesore. As I said in a comment in the earlier story - there were complaints about this building for years - but given that it's social housing, simply not a priority spend.
Rubout (Essex Co NJ)
Sorry but there is no such thing as "fireproof". "fire resistant" maybe but no, no building is fireproof.
PJ (Colorado)
The investigation of this disaster should include not only the primary cause but whether the building regulations were weakened by lobbyists for the construction industry. I'm sure the UK is no different from the US in that respect.
Oakwood (New York)
"Council Flats" as these are called in England, are similar to what New Yorkers call "Projects". Essentially, they are apartment buildings built and owned by the City government to provide subsidized housing for the economically disadvantaged. No private ownership is involved at all, and we should expect government to abide by its own building codes. Or maybe not.
nic gro (ny)
negligence can be a crime and should be treated as such with all the consequences
Jomo (San Diego)
"...the police have ruled out terrorism."

I realize terrorism is a big problem and London has recently been targeted, but these days it seems that newspaper articles about ANY unhappy event always include a mention of whether terrorism is involved - even when there's nothing in the nature of the event to suggest that it is. Sometimes it seems to hinge merely on whether a reporter can get any official to use the word, as in "Was it a hate crime or do you think it was an act of terrorism?"

The problem is that this fuels the already-exaggerated public fears about terrorism. Hearing the word used so often adds to the sense that terrorism is happening every day. A large percentage of Americans now believe illogically that they are more likely to be victims of terrorism than a car crash. This false belief is shaping our public policy in negative ways. Please don't add fuel to the fire.
Concerned Citizen (Long Island, NY)
A fire sprinkler system would have controlled this fire in the area of origin and then extinguishment would have been accomplished by the local fire department, which would have immediately been summoned by the alarm attached to the sprinkler system. There would probably have been no loss of life. Fire sprinklers were invented in the 1800's and refined since then. There is no excuse to not have them mandated in these multiple occupancys, either during construction, of retrofitted in these building.
Joe (Ohio)
sprinkler system. This has to end as it is obviously unsafe. I'm betting there are not many wealthy people living in such unsafe buildings in England, or anywhere else. The lives of the poor are increasingly held in little regard as many countries concentrate on serving the needs of the wealthy over them. It is unconscionable.
Doug Mac (Seattle)
Hard to justify the lack of response to previous complaints regarding safety in a building. This tragedy, like the Oakland warehouse fire last December, which killed more than 30 people. These are both failures of local governments to strictly enforce laws to protect people's lives. I am sure, globally, there more even more tragic fires that should serve as examples of non-compliance with laws and no prosecutions of those responsible.
tml (cambridge ma)
It is sadly fitting that the million of pounds spent into refurbishing the building, was lauded by authorities for making it *look* new and modern (rather than for better insulation, which it did also provide), and thus supposedly giving its inhabitans a sense of pride and comfort - or was it really to give the wealthier neighbors relief from an eyesore ?
Appearance over substance, and appearance tragically killed what will surely be hundreds of people
Phillip (Manhattan)
Never saw such an infernal spread overall the building so quickly. That recently installed cladding needs to be studied thoroughly as that seems to be the only explanation for the outside of the building being so horribly scorched. Installing that cladding had to be looked at as a criminal act, if there is anything not up to code about it.
Ken Belcher (Chicago)

My link for the updated Dubai rules to mandate non flammable cladding got altered as I copied the link; the real link is:
Ken Belcher (Chicago)
Iver Thompson (Pasadena, Ca)
Considering that smoke and fire tends to follow the heated air flow, which is up, building one floor on top of the next seems a rather illogical way to build places for people to line in. Stacking logs in a fireplace, maybe. After some point it become impossible to defy logic and gravity with artificial means. Inherent problems tend to be stubborn and often only morph into ones worse than they began. Our struggle with nature only grows the more we try to challenge it.
Architect (NYC)
The key issue here is understanding how the compartmentalized configuration of the building was overwhelmed and defeated. Sheltering in place is beyond a doubt the preferred strategy for occupants of a concrete frame tower, where a fire in a properly constructed structure will be contained to the apartment of origin. That the exterior wall acted as fuel and a pathway for the fire instead of as a barrier is the most obvious place to start. However, that the interior corridors and stairway became impassably filled with smoke when "stay put" became untenable is the other area to be examined, since it indicates an equally unacceptable failure of the building's compartmentalization concept.
scientella (palo alto)
The reason staying in place does NOT work here is because of the toxic, hideous and lethal panels applied to improve the "aesthetic" of a bit of expose concrete. What happened here is the concrete was OK but the outside of the building was on fire. Then the best and only strategy is to get out ASAP.
ken hernandez (pittsburgh)
If a building has living quarters higher than local fire fighters can get to via ladders, etc., it MUST have sprinklers.
Joe (NJ)
More importantly, if it has occupied floors higher than what the local fire fighter's pumping apparatus can supply water to, it needs pumps capable of getting water there.
NormBC (British Columbia)
In the end, this tragedy is the result of the next stage of neoliberalism, in which the rich and the shrinking middle classes enjoy a throwaway culture and where the poor ARE throwaways. Reasoned resident complains about fire risks were repeatedly ignored. Oh, and the cladding? Evidently partially motivated by surrounding rich folk thinking the building was an eyesore.
Michael S (Wappingers Falls, NY)
Its not neoliberalism. Since the industrial revolution Britain has had a talent for building the most God awful substandard housing for the working classes. They've inculcated the masses that accepting less is a virtue. This is all a result of the class system, as is the attitude of the Borough Council that they "knew best" and didn't have to seriously consider the complaints of their wokring class tenants.
J. Stafford Willington (Evanston, IL)
Neoliberalism built in 1976. Right?
Molly Wheat (Madison, Wisconsin)
Yes, and lets just keep cutting all those troublesome regulations.
Nora Webster (Lucketts, VA)
These 47 year old high rises are functionally obsolescent from the standpoint of fire safety. Centralized fire alarms are an easy and cheap fix. Self closing hallway doors are also needed but more expensive. I read that this building's retrofit included the installation of self-closing doors, but the residents had propped them open. Next would be installation of sprinklers, which is extremely expensive. Finally, the most expensive of all, reinforcing walls, ceilings and floors to prevent the fire from spreading. This is essentially bringing the building up to the same standards you see on modern skyscrapers where it makes sense to stay in place. At this point it makes more sense to just tear the building down, but that will never happen. Not with this building or other similar apartment buildings in the U.K. or here in the US. Tearing down these buildings would decimate our already insufficient housing stock.
uglybagofmostlywater (Woodbury)
The original high rise concept, implemented to confine "them" in as small a footprint as possible, was a disaster waiting to happen. The fact that it endured as long as it did is amazing, particularly since the original disaster-in-waiting was moved along very nicely by failure or refusal to install basic safety mechanisms, eg overhead sprinklers, and the ludicrous "cladding" that was installed to make the tower less awful to its ritzy neighbors.
Joe Bob the III (MN)
This is factually incorrect. Fire sprinklers are not "extremely expensive." Relative to other construction costs, not to mention the risks of loss of life and property, fire sprinkler systems are cheap.

One could retrofit a high-rise with a sprinkler system for about $3 per square foot of building area. That's not much more than what you would spend on carpet.
Ellienyc (New York, NY)
Actually, the confining concept has worked quite well in the several fires I have been in in high rises ranging from 85 to 50 years old. And in a couple of those fires, it would have been deadly to try to evacuate and go down the stairs because they filled rapidly with thick black smoke.

Regarding the thing about the stairwell doors being propped open, that happens in NY too, but a couple of inspections by the NYFD and citations issued and fines imposed and it is far less likely to happen. I have called the FD a couple of times when I thought there was a dangerous, noncomplying situation (like open stairwells and Christmas trees stored in hallways) and they were very receptive. So was the building's management as they don't want problems with the FD, but don't know what the situation is in London, especially with a building owned by local government, which may not be as receptive to safety regulations.
Fatso (New York City)
Many years ago in NYC, apartment buildings routinely had fire escapes. I think they should be brought back in all apartment buildings, in addition to the use of sprinklers and alarms.
EK (Iowa)
Not sure how viable a fire escape is when the outside of the building is the main source of combustion (would you want to go down a fire escape attached to a flaming exterior?).
Joe Bob the III (MN)
Fire escapes are basically an archaic technology. In modern buildings egress stairs are in protected enclosures while fire sprinklers and alarms provide additional layers of protection. Completely aside from their unsightliness, fire escapes are a maintenance problem and they compromise building security. In northern climates where snow and ice are concerns they can also be hazards in and of themselves.
Hoboken Skier (<br/>)
@Fatso, NYC apartment buildings still have fire escapes.
Any building with more than 5 above ground stories needs two means of egress. For the converted brownstones and older buildings that invariably meant an external fire escape structure being added to the building. Newer buildings are built with two internal stairwells.
So in NY they exist in all apartment buildings >5 stories.
Richard Santo (Boynton Beach FL)
The fire at Grenfell Tower and the Flint Water Boondoggle points to the old story of employees of bloated government agencies doing nothing but collecting their paychecks and then acting outraged when a disaster strikes. The fact that a study of fire safety rules was underway since 2009 in London and that the Flint River in Michigan was being "ANALYZED" points to do-nothing bureaucrats who SHOULD go to jail for their crimes against HUMANITY STARTING FROM THE TOP NOT BOTTOM!
Joe (Ohio)
A lot of this is done in the name of cost cutting.
Carol Jackson (Michigan)
The people who committed the worst errors - possibly crimes - in Flint were not civil service employees but political appointees who had an ideological interest in bankrupting then taking over the Detroit water system. The governor & his political appointees spent nearly a year ignoring residents of Flint holding up obviously dirty water that those officials insisted was good enough. When several dedicated individuals, including a doctor who is an Arab immigrant from a war zone, provided evidence that the water was poisoned, the governor's first reaction was to go prancing about the country blithering about how we have to keep Syrians out. Acknowledging the problems with the water came several weeks later. That's especially imbecilic in MI, which has a large, highly Americanized Arab-speaking population that could really help refugees while using them to improve our own economy. Even now -- with an entire age group in a major Michigan city poisoned with neurotoxins -- the governor refuses to acknowledge that his appointees made serious mistakes. Those charged with involuntary manslaughter are continuing to work.
We have the problems we have because we are democracy whose voters don't see themselves as employers & vote accordingly; instead, voters tend to see themselves as adherents to some kind of partisan religion.
Richmonder by Chance (Richmond, Va.)
Rubbish. Don't blame the worker bees. The top management of organizations should be held responsible - that's what they're PAID for!
engineer (nyc)
A very tragic story no doubt resulting from a number of problematic factors. (Open doors and windows, high fuel load, flawed stay in place policy for an inferno situation, a single stairwell, no sprinklers, lack of annunciators, and very possibly the cladding insulation) The images of the entire building burning all at once continue to shock. It should never have happened, and yet it did, with appalling loss of life.

Thousands of these kinds of older highrises exist in many countries -- retrofitting all of them would bankrupt any government or private owner. What is to be done to improve the situation? The solutions will not be easy to implement.
Renee (New London CT)
settling lawsuits after dozens of tenants die would also bankrupt the owners. Doing nothing is not an option.
Gert (New York)
@Renee: If a property owner follows all applicable laws and regulations, then it might not lose or have to settle a single lawsuit. Therefore, you can't rely on that to convince owners to take action on their own. Compulsory measures are needed if you want to ensure a greater level of safety.
Justin (Seattle)
Not easy, indeed. But that's not much of an excuse for letting human beings die for want of a safe place to live.

We've obviously struggled with that for a long time as a species, but it seems our main impediment at this advanced technological state is the greed of our own private oligarchy (5 of whom control nearly half of the earth's wealth).
Eric Lamar (WDC)
Though I'm a firefighter, you don't have to be one to know that highrise buildings, especially residential ones, must have sprinklers.

Sian Berry, chairwoman of the Housing Committee of the London Assembly, said, "centralized fire alarm systems were not required for residential buildings since they required constant monitoring to be effective. Grenfell Tower did not have one."

How utterly and insanely bizarre!

If you elect to roll the dice and forego sprinklers, the one thing you better have is a fully functioning detection and alarm system to allow residents to react swiftly.

By the way, sprinklers will control, but not necessarily extinguish, a fire--a robust fire brigade is still essential.
Laurie C (Marina, CA)
I was about to quote the exact same section of the article. So, the building did not have a fire alarm system because...why? They can't afford the upkeep? They are understaffed to the point of danger? They don't see the value in upkeep?

What does this statement mean??
David (Flushing)
The building in question is the US equivalent of public housing. The trouble with fire alarms in these situations is that they will be activated merely for the annoyance of the residents and soon become ignored. Few residential building in NYC have them.

Sprinklers may have been of limited usefulness as the exterior of the building was burning. There have been a number of cases of this with plastic based insulation cladding. The most notable was in Dubai in 2015 involving a 63 story hotel. Again, sprinklers are not required in residential buildings in NYC, though office buildings over 100 feet must have them.
LouiseH (UK)
I presume that it didn't have a centralised fire alarm because the recommended advice for tenants in the case of a fire on a different floor was to stay put. A building-wide alarm would presumably result in an immediate mass evacuation, which given the single stairwell was thought to put people in unnecessary danger and interfere with the fire service's operations.

I think it has to be borne in mind that tower block fires (which are not that unusual) are almost always confined to one flat or at the worst one floor long enough for the fire service to put out. The "stay put" advice, though it looks bewildering when we see the extent of this fire, has presumably worked effectively in the past. It is one of the many, many things that will have to be considered at the public inquiry.
See also