UK: High-rise fire concerns grow

2017-06-25 19:01
Flames and smoke engulf Grenfell Tower. (Adrian Dennis, AFP)

Flames and smoke engulf Grenfell Tower. (Adrian Dennis, AFP)

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London - The British government said on Sunday local officials across the country should urgently submit samples of exterior panels from apartment towers after authorities found that all samples tested so far have failed fire safety standards.

In London, officials trying to avoid another fire disaster after the fast-moving Grenfell Tower blaze that killed at least 79 people, sought on Sunday to complete the evacuation of hundreds of apartments in four towers deemed unsafe. They faced resistance as several families refused to budge.

The government has so far collected 34 samples of external cladding - panels widely used to insulate buildings and improve their appearance - and all failed a "combustibility test," Community Secretary Sajid Javid said. The national testing was ordered after the June 14 Grenfell tragedy. The tower's cladding was believed to have rapidly spread that blaze.

The samples came from 17 different locations around the country, including London, Manchester, Plymouth and Portsmouth.

A public inquiry is due to determine how the unsafe cladding was allowed to be fitted onto Grenfell and other buildings in the first place.

In northwest London, Camden Council ordered residents at four buildings that are part of a tower block known as Chalcots Estate to leave about 600 apartments late on Friday as a precaution after fire inspectors found problems with the blocks' fire doors and gas pipes.

Staying put

The council said residents must leave immediately because of those issues and because the towers were encased in similar cladding to the material used at Grenfell Tower.

Hundreds of residents face up to four weeks in temporary accommodation as workers try to upgrade the buildings' fire safety features. Around 20 families wanted to stay put, but council leader Georgia Gould said they must leave for the renovations to begin.

Sayed Meah, 34, who lives with his mother and wife, said he would not move until the company that helps care for his mother agrees to provide service at a new location.

He said he and other residents are determined to remain in their apartments until a legal notice is obtained or they are "dragged out by their fingernails".

Refurbishment of the Chalcots towers was overseen by Rydon, the same company involved in the recent renovation of the now-devastated Grenfell Tower.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan backed the Camden Council's decision to evacuate the apartment blocks.

"I think they've done the right thing. Look, you've got to err on the side of caution. You can't play Russian roulette with people's safety," Khan told Sky News.

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