Cladding was installed to meet U.K. “green energy” mandates, but the high-rise was not equipped with fire protection sprinkler systems.
The total losses from the inferno that swept through London’s Grenfell Tower last week are still being assessed. The count of dead victims has steadily increased with each report, and now stands at 79.
At least 79 people are dead or missing and presumed dead following the fire that tore through the 24-story Grenfell Tower in London, police have said.
Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy told a press conference Monday that only five victims have been formally identified so far, and the death toll may change.
“Sadly for many families they have lost more than one family member,” said Cundy, who added that the “painstaking” search and recovery operation is proceeding as quickly as possible, but may take “many many weeks.”
Ultimately, investigators may not be able to identify all those who died. Video taken during the initial phases of the investigation reveal the utter devastation.
At this point, the origin of the fire has been identified as a refrigerator. The firefighters initially believed they had extinguished the small blaze, only to discover it had spread rapidly.
Units were called to what they believed to be a standard fridge fire at the doomed high-rise, and within minutes told residents the fire was out in the flat.
The crew was leaving the building when firefighters outside spotted flames rising up the side of the building, BBC Panorama has uncovered.
The Fire Brigades Union say firefighters were left facing an unprecedented fire, and officers broke their own safety protocol to rescue people.
As an environmental health and safety professional, my initial assessment was that an accelerant had been used or that the incipient fire had ignited bomb-making material. It appears the root cause of the inferno may have been the recently installed exterior cladding, which is alleged to present a flammability hazard.
The material in the exterior cladding consisted of insulation sandwiched between two sheets of aluminum. The type used at Grenfell Tower is made under the Reynobond name by Arconic, a company spun off from the aluminum giant Alcoa last year. It was installed around the tower, which was built in 1974, in a renovation completed last year.
Critics of the material have warned for years that aluminum surface sheets can melt in a fire, after which flames could race through flammable insulation. If other protections fail and fire penetrates the cladding, “It is like you have got a high-rise building and you are encasing it in kerosene,” said Edwin Galea, director of the Fire Safety Engineering Group at the University of Greenwich. “It is insanity, pure and simple.”
Such a runaway blaze appears to have been precisely what happened at Grenfell Tower. The flames engulfed the building in a matter of minutes, moving from the outside inward and emitting a dark smoke characteristic of burning insulation.
An extremely troubling aspect to this finding is the reason the cladding may have been selected: To meet Great Britain’s green energy mandates.
“It could be that this is the quest for sustainability trumping other concerns,” echoed Dr. Jim Glockling of the Fire Protection Association.
“There has been an emerging body of evidence surrounding some of the materials being used and now we have an appalling demonstration of what can happen,” Glockling said.
The Telegraph noted that cladding “is used as an insulation to make buildings more sustainable to meet green energy requirements.” Some 30,000 buildings in the U.K. have been retrofitted with cladding to cheaply comply with green energy mandates.
This type of cladding is prohibited for use in the construction of high rises in the United States and Germany.
Another contributing factor in this disaster is that Grenfell Tower lacked sprinkler systems typically required in high rise units.
Like many large British buildings, the Grenfell Tower didn’t have fire sprinklers, although government officials had repeatedly called for buildings like it to be retrofitted. Grenfell Tower is owned by the local government and is similar to other large public housing around the country.
So, the British government essentially imposed rules that mandated Grenfell Tower be encased in flammable substance, then allowed people to occupy the building without installing standard fire protection systems. This reads like something out of a bad 1970’s movie script.
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