Inquiry: Combustible cladding on London’s Grenfell Tower key to deadly fire

Members of the emergency services work inside burnt out remains of the Grenfell apartment tower in North Kensington, London June 18, 2017. — Reuters pic
Members of the emergency services work inside burnt out remains of the Grenfell apartment tower in North Kensington, London June 18, 2017. — Reuters pic

LONDON, Oct 30 — The use of combustible materials in the refurbishment of London’s Grenfell Tower was central to the catastrophic chain of events in June 2017 that turned an ordinary kitchen fire into an inferno that killed 71 people, an official inquiry said today.

The blaze at Grenfell Tower, a 23-storey social housing block owned by one of London’s richest local authorities, shocked Britain and threw up a range of disturbing questions about how the building had been allowed to become a tinderbox.

“In its origin, the fire at Grenfell Tower was no more than a typical kitchen fire,” wrote Martin Moore-Bick, chairman of a public inquiry into the disaster, in a report on the first phase of investigations which focused on events on the night of the blaze.

Having broken out late at night in a fourth-floor flat because of an electrical fault in a refrigerator, the fire spread to the outside of the building and raced up its facade, which had been fitted with a type of combustible aluminium composite material cladding during a refurbishment completed in 2016.

Within 17 minutes of the first call to emergency services by the tenant of the fourth-floor flat, the fire had reached the 22nd floor, and six minutes after that it had reached the roof. From there, it engulfed the whole tower, reducing it to a charred ruin by morning.

Moore-Bick said there was compelling evidence that the external walls did not comply with building regulations because of the cladding and insulation material fitted between it and the original concrete wall.

“They did not adequately resist the spread of fire having regard to the height, use and position of the building. On the contrary, they actively promoted it,” he wrote.

Moore-Bick did not apportion blame for the decision to use the materials in the refurbishment, but said the issue would be at the heart of the second phase of his inquiry, which is already under way and is expected to last about two years.

“The principal focus of Phase 2 will be on the decisions which led to the installation of a highly combustible cladding system on a high-rise residential building and the wider background against which they were taken,” he wrote.

A police investigation into the Grenfell Tower disaster is also ongoing, although officers have said no decision on criminal charges will be made until the public inquiry process has concluded. — Reuters