London fire: Mourning, anger and questions over lives lost in inferno

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LONDON --  London's fire chief has warned that it could take weeks to identify all the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, such is the devastation caused by the blaze.

A day after the devastating fire in North Kensington, firefighters were still working to dampen the blaze and search for remains of the dead. Police said the confirmed number of deaths had reached 17.

Dany Cotton, London's fire commissioner, said she had "genuinely" no idea about how many people were still missing. She also admitted that it we be an "absolute miracle" if there was still anyone alive in the tower and that it would take "weeks" to complete a proper search with the building still unstable.

On Thursday, Labour Member of Parliament David Lammy called for arrests to be made over the fire, describing the incident as "corporate manslaughter."

Latest developments

Final death toll still unknown, no number put on missing Residents who escaped were offered housing overnight Local council says it has enough donations for the survivors 37 people in hospital, 17 of which are critical British Prime Minister Theresa May visited the site Thursday



British Prime Minister Theresa May visited the site of the fire on Thursday where she talked to those involved in the rescue effort.

Lammy told the BBC he had yet to hear from family friend Khadjia Saye who lived in the tower and called the fire "an outrage".

"We built buildings in the 70s, those 70s buildings, many of them should be demolished, they haven't got easy fire escapes, they've got no sprinklers - it's totally, totally unacceptable in Britain that this is allowed to happen and people lose their lives in this way and people should be held to account."

Speaking Thursday, fire chief Cotton said that urban search and rescue dogs would be deployed inside the building.

Cotton said that while the core of the building was structurally sound, dogs were lighter and more agile than people. Her staff will remain on scene for "days to come" and that the search of the tower would be a "slow and painstaking process."

Cotton also said that parts of the building would have to be shored up in order to make it safe for rescue workers to reach each floor.

'Didn't hear fire alarms'

Questions remain over how the Grenfell Tower fire began and how it spread so quickly through the 1970s-era building that was home to as many as 500 people.

Originally constructed in 1974, the residential tower block had recently undergone a massive $13.2M (£10.3M) refurbishment carried out by private developers Rydon and completed in the summer of 2016.

According to the local authority's website, these large-scale works included the installation of "insulated exterior cladding, new double-glazed windows and a new communal heating system, with the goal of improving energy efficiency."

Notably, redevelopment of the building included provisions for improvements to the "smoke/fire safety and ventilation works."

Residents had complained about safety going back several years.

Many of those evacuated said the fire had spread incredibly quickly with almost no warning and multiple residents told CNN they did not hear fire alarms when the blaze broke out.

In November a residents group, the Grenfell Action Group (GAC), highlighted ongoing concerns among residents over the safety of the tower, managed by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) on behalf of the borough.

The blog post argued that only "a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord ... and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders."

KCTMO acknowledged residents' concerns in a statement. "It is too early to speculate what caused the fire and contributed to its spread. We will co-operate fully with all the relevant authorities in order to ascertain the cause of this tragedy."

"We are aware that concerns have been raised historically by residents. We always take all concerns seriously and these will form part of our forthcoming investigations."

Safety concerns

Many questions are still unanswered, chief among them, how the fire spread so quickly.

Wayne Brown, London Fire Brigade Deputy Assistant Commissioner, said in 25 years on the job he had "never seen a fire with that intensity spread so quickly throughout a building of this size."

Fire chiefs said it was too early to speculate on the cause of the blaze. However, residents of the tower had expressed concerns over the safety of the building, specifically pointing to fire risks, according to a website run by the Grenfell Action Group.

Ian Burgess, a professor of structural engineering at the University of Sheffield, told CNN that while fires do spread vertically up buildings, it's "generally quite a slow process."

"This was clearly a very rapid transmission of flame up the front of the building," he said.

Mike Gilmartin, director of Omega Fire Engineering, said that to meet requirements, a building must have residential sprinklers and fire alarms in every apartment, as well as other features such as a firefighting shaft.

Gilmartin said fire design has evolved over the years but it's not feasible to make all older buildings comply with the latest legislation. He added it's standard guidance that residents should stay in their apartments if a fire breaks out, as many of those in Grenfell Tower did.

"It is considered that occupants are safer in their dwelling than coming out into potentially smoke logged corridors," he said.

Grenfell Tower

Grenfell Tower was built in the 1970s and recently subject to a $10.9 million redevelopment, according to property firm Rydon. The building was to undergo specific improvements to fire safety and ventilation works.

The web page relating to the refurbishment works later appeared to have been wiped.

The tower, part of the Lancaster West social housing estate, is managed by an agency on behalf of the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

Former fire marshal Robert Rowe told CNN the fire appears to have been "moving very quickly."

He said he suspects the fire sprinkler system "was out of service or there was a malfunction at the time" based on how quickly the fire spread.

"What a fire sprinkler does, is stop it immediately. You won't have a fire of (such) a magnitude," Rowe said. "It would stop it right there."

Close to Notting Hill, the tower block is around a five-minute walk from the Latimer Road Underground station and near the Westfield shopping center in the west London suburbs. It's a mixed-development property that houses a boxing gym and a nursery, according to a news release last year from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Before the renovation, there were 120 apartments in the building.

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