In the early hours of the morning of 14th June 2018 a blaze broke out on the 13th floor of a tower block in Lewisham, South London. About 150 people fled their homes when the fire broke out in a flat in Elmira Street at 4.14am BST.
Residents of the 20-storey block of flats claim no fire alarm went off but they were woken by the sound of people screaming. With Grenfell still at the forefront of everyone’s minds, most of the residents had left the building before the fire brigade arrived.
Eight fire engines arrived on the scene to tackle the blaze, which was already being suppressed by the fire sprinkler system. The London Fire Brigade declared the blaze under control by 5.23am BST and residents were able to return to the building at 7.37am.
One year on from the tragic Grenfell Tower block fire, we are still calling for the law to change and make mandatory the retrofitting of fire sprinklers in all high-rise residential buildings. Earlier this year a London Assembly report recommended sprinklers should be fitted by law in new care homes, sheltered housing and blocks of flats higher than six storeys.
But, how much has changed since Grenfell? The rehousing of swathes of people still hasn’t happened. More than 60 households are still living in emergency accommodation and 15 households are still living in hotels.
The re-cladding of 311 residential towers which have similar aluminium panels used on Grenfell (and responsible for how quickly the fire spread) isn’t happening fast enough. Only 11 of the blocks found to have cladding similar to Grenfell have been re-clad in safer materials so far. In another 100, re-cladding is underway.
A government-commissioned review of building regulations concluded there was no need to ban combustible materials. And there has been no further movement on a change in the law to make the retrofitting of sprinklers mandatory.
That is despite The London Assembly Report Never again: Sprinklers as the next step towards safer homes, which calls for action. “Automatic fire suppression systems (AFSS) offer an additional layer of protection that can suppress or even extinguish a fire, saving both lives and property. AFSS, which include sprinklers, prevent fire from spreading and allow firefighters to more easily extinguish it.”
The ‘stay put’ policy adhered to during the Grenfell Tower fire a year earlier is also currently under investigation by the Police.
Recent reports published as part of the fact-finding stage of the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire, in which 72 people died, confer that a ‘stay put’ strategy was only appropriate while the fire was contained in the flat where it started, but not once the fire began to spread.
Today’s fire in Lewisham is a timely reminder of the effectiveness of sprinkler systems and the role they play in containing fire, and that a ‘stay put’ strategy is no longer advice people can trust.
Today we at Applications Engineering pay respect to the 72 victims, the survivors, the families, friends and community of Grenfell. We will continue to support the campaign to retrofit fire sprinklers. Grenfell is a tragedy that must never happen again. The Lewisham fire is another sign of the preventative measures we must take.