British Prime Minister Theresa May has called for a full public inquiry into the raging fire that tore through a recently renovated 24-story high rise in London, killing at least 17 people and injuring dozens more.
Built in 1974, the Grenfell Tower got new cladding, windows, heating and nine more residential units last summer to modernize the subsidized housing.
Firefighters were called to the 127-unit structure just before 1 a.m. June 14. The blaze is believed to have started on the fourth floor and spread quickly, burning all floors from the second story up, the BBC reported. More than 200 firefighters with 40 engines responded.
“[The emergency services] told me that the way this fire had spread and took hold of the building was rapid, it was ferocious, it was unexpected,” May said. “So, it is right that, in addition to the immediate fire report that will be produced and any potential police investigation, that we do have a full public inquiry to get to the bottom of this.”
Witnesses said the blaze seemed to spread externally, raising many questions about the cladding used and what role it played in the inferno that took 24 hours to extinguish.
An October 2012 planning application to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea says improving the insulation level of the walls was a priority and the chosen strategy was to “wrap the building in a thick layer of insulation and then over-clad with a rain screen to protect the insulation from the weather and from physical damage.”
Six inches of polyisocyanurate (PIR) insulation called Celotex FR 5000 was specified in the architects' plans along with a new rain screen. Harley Facade Ltd. says it installed but did not manufacture the over-cladding, which it describes on its website as an aluminum composite material (ACM) rainscreen.
A 2014 application for the renovation to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea says the main building panels would be Reynobond/Reynolux in the color of smoke silver metallic. A website about Reynobond ACM says the aluminum panels are available “with either a polyethylene (PE) core or a fire-resistant (FR) core material.”
Some experts say the void left between the composite panels and the building to vent moisture could have had a chimney-type effect that drew the flames up.
Claire Benson, a research fellow at London South Bank University, told a local newpaper, The Evening Standard: “There are two main factors. It could be down to the material that is used. It could be down to air flow causing a chimney effect that can really drive a fire very quickly. The investigation is going to be key to establishing how the fire spread and where it spread.”
The managing director of Harley, Ray Bailey, issued a statement calling the fire “an incredibly tragic incident” on the company's Facebook page.
“Our thoughts are with the residents and their families who have suffered such a personal loss,” he said in the post. “We will fully support and cooperate with the investigations into this fire. There will be many questions about this whole incident and so you will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for us to comment or for others to speculate on any aspect” of the fire in advance of these inquiries. “At this time, we are not aware of any link between the fire and the exterior cladding to the tower.”
Rydon Group Ltd. oversaw the renovation project. CEO Robert Bond also issued a statement in support of the public inquiry.
“I am personally shocked and devastated by what has happened at Grenfell Tower and my thoughts are with the families and friends of those affected,” Bond said. “We have been working with local authorities for nearly 40 years and safety and quality are integral to everything we do at Rydon. I will do all I can to assist in this investigation in order to establish what caused this tragedy. In light of the public inquiry, we cannot make any further comment at this time.”
An investigator, Police Commander Stuart Cundy, said the search for missing occupants could take months and he hoped the death toll wouldn't be in “triple figures.”