At least 12 people—and probably many more—have died following a fire at the Grenfell tower block in west London.
The block housed over 600 people. Almost every floor was caught in the blaze. The fire began on the fourth floor at 12.45am. Some people jumped from the building rather than burn to death.
One resident who lives nearby told Socialist Worker, “People were shouting at me from windows to catch their children and throwing them down, but it was too far—there was nothing I could do to help. That was the hardest thing.”
This tragedy did not come from nowhere. Years of cuts to council budgets, the fire brigade, and the deliberate running-down of council estates provide the context.
Local campaigners from the Grenfell Action Group had warned that exactly this kind of tragedy was waiting to happen.
One blog post suggested that “Only an incident that results in serious loss of life” would cause the council’s practices to be scrutinised.
Another shows ten instances when the council was warned about the safety of the building.
The blog also draws attention to a power surge caused by faulty wiring in 2013 which almost resulted in a similar event. Concerns raised then were ignored.
A former chair of the Grenfell Tower tenants' and residents' association also told CNN news, “We took those concerns to the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea, to their housing scrutiny committee, but they dismissed our concerns.”
Questions remain to be answered. A recent £9.7 million refurbishment of the building included new cladding on the outside.
Local residents told Socialist Worker that they believe this was why the fire spread so quickly.
An independent review has been initiated into similar housing which has been refurbished—too late.
One local resident pointed the finger at Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation
“They spent £10 million to do that cosmetic cladding but where was the fire protection? It's just gone up in flames,” Wendy told Socialist Worker.
“When it comes to poor people it's just about experimenting.”
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said, “This kind of tower block is normally designed to stop this sort of thing happening.
“The normal fire protection that should be in place in a block like that did not function as it should have.”
Chris Roche from 11.04 Architects questioned why basic safety procedures appeared to have not been met.
“Did each flat have a fire extinguisher to provide a first line of defence in the event of a small electrical fire?” The entire cost for the block would have been £4,000.
People reported not being able to hear fire alarms as they escaped the inferno.
Other residents told Socialist Worker that the previous development of land surrounding Grenfell had reduced the number of entrances and exits to the tower.
Local resident Moyra Samuels told Socialist Worker, “The council built a leisure centre in front of Grenfell and a school next to it.
“They have been under-resourcing council housing in the borough to promote gentrification and force council tenants out.”
There are questions for the Tory government to answer too.
Former housing minister Gavin Barwell, now Theresa May’s chief of staff, was one of a number of government ministers who did nothing for four years about a report warning high-rise blocks like Grenfell Tower were vulnerable to fire.
In January last year the Tories rejected a proposed rule that would have required private landlords to make their homes “fit for human habitation”. In other words, that tenants should have safe places to live.
There are 18 members of Theresa May’s current government that were among the 72 Tory MPs who were registered as deriving income from property of over £10,000 a year at that time.
As the tower burned, people from the surrounding area came out to offer food and help to those escaping.
One local resident told Socialist Worker her whole family came out to help handing out blankets, food and water at 3am.
The Westway sports centre became a focus for people to bring provisions to. Other people set up stalls in the street and near the local mosque.
The blame lies with the Tory government and its apologists in local government—years of cuts and deliberate running down of estates have created the conditions for this tragedy.
There need to be arrests and criminal charges of the guilty.
Boris Johnson behind London fire service cuts and station closures
During Boris Johnson’s time as the Tory mayor London Fire Brigade was required to make over £100 million cuts.
An October 2016 fire resources review report revealed that 27 fire engines and two Fire Rescue Units and the crewing generally were all cut under Johnson.
Theresa May’s Tory foreign secretary also closed ten fire stations and slashed the number of firefighters in the city by 552 during his time as mayor.
One of the closed stations was in Knightsbridge, near Grenfell tower.
Another £23.5 million of cuts were scheduled over the next three years due to funding arrangements Johnson’s administration put in place.
A Lancaster University analysis found around 50 percent of all call outs in areas where stations closed didn’t meet the six minute response time target for the first fire engine to arrive.
The Fire Brigades Union branded the findings “outrageous but foreseeable” last year when the analysis was published.
It came after a string of fire deaths over the previous year in the capital where fire crews failed to meet their target attendance time.
London Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick, who was a firefighter for more than 20 years, said this morning the government had resisted calls to install sprinkler systems in tower blocks.
Ronnie King, honorary administrative secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fire Safety and Rescue and a former Chief Fire Officer, also spoke out this morning.
He said they had “strongly recommended” installing fire suppression systems and sprinklers in 4,000 similar tower blocks across the country.