More fire risks exposed as UK scramble to meet concerns

2017-06-24 18:41
People gather in a leisure centre in Swiss Cottage in northern London after the local council evacuated about 650 homes. (AP)

People gather in a leisure centre in Swiss Cottage in northern London after the local council evacuated about 650 homes. (AP)

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London - The scope of Britain's fire-safety crisis broadened on Saturday as London officials scrambled to evacuate four public housing towers due to concerns about external cladding, fire doors and insulation around gas pipes.

Hundreds of residents hastily packed their bags and sought emergency shelter, with many angry and confused about the chaotic situation. Some refused to leave.

Other fire risks

Camden Council said it decided to evacuate the buildings on the Chalcots Estate late on Friday after fire inspectors reported that the blocks were "not safe for people to sleep in overnight." Inspectors uncovered problems with "gas insulation and door stops," which combined with the presence of flammable cladding meant residents had to leave immediately, council leader Georgia Gould said in a tweet.

The evacuation comes amid widening worries about the safety of high-rise apartment blocks across Britain following the inferno that engulfed Grenfell Tower in west London on June 14, killing at least 79 people. Public attention has focused on the external cladding material blamed for the rapid spread of that blaze - but now it appeared that multiple other fire risks have been identified in some blocks.

Britain's government said on Saturday that cladding samples from 27 high-rise apartment blocks in cities including London, Manchester, Plymouth and Portsmouth have failed fire safety tests.

So far, Camden Council has been the only local authority known to have asked residents to leave as a precaution. It said about 650 apartments were evacuated, though initial reports had said that as many as 800 were affected.

"I know some residents are angry and upset, but I want to be very clear that Camden Council acted to protect them," Gould said in a statement. "Grenfell changed everything  and when told our blocks were unsafe to remain in, we acted".

Knocking on doors

Residents — including families with babies and elderly relatives — trooped out of the buildings on Friday night with suitcases and plastic bags stuffed with clothes as council workers guided them to a local leisure centre, where some spent the night on inflatable mattresses packed into a gym. Others were being put up in hotels and other housing projects.

The council said residents would be out of their homes for three to four weeks while it completes fire-safety upgrades.

Many residents complained of a lack of information and confusion. Officials first announced the evacuation of one building, then expanded it to five and later reduced it to four. Some said they learned about the evacuation on television news before officials came knocking on doors.


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