Shortly before 1:00 A.M. on June 14, 2017, a fire tears through West London’s 24-story Grenfell tower. 72 people died, scores were injured and hundreds were left homeless in Britain’s deadliest fire in more than a century.
The fire started in a Hotpoint brand fridge-freezer in a fourth-floor apartment. The flames traveled from the kitchen and up the exterior side of the building, which was filled with 300 low-income residents. From there, the flames moved fast, engulfing the other sides of the building as well. Firefighters soon arrived, but the fire quickly reached the top floor. By 2 A.M., the fire was declared a “major incident.”
Because residents followed Grenfell’s “stay-put” fire policy, the death toll surged. Unsuspecting victims had been led to believe that their building was designed to contain a fire inside an apartment until it could be put out. So even as smoke filled the building’s single narrow stairwell, many residents heeded instructions to stay in their apartments, while others moved to higher floors, believing the blaze would be contained below them. Some ignored the policy and evacuated the building anyway. As the blaze spread around the sides of the building, it eventually made its way back inside several apartments. At 2:47 building officials abandoned the stay-put policy, telling residents to try and leave, if possible; but for many, it was too late. By 4:30, the flames completely engulfed the tower. Upward of 200 firefighters and 40 fire engines responded, but the fire took more than 24 hours to finally burn out.
As rescue workers underwent the grisly recovery of victims’ remains, and the death count was still being tallied, Londoners—angry over what they called Prime Minister Theresa May’s “flimsy” response to the tragedy—protested, demanding more help for survivors. People were insulted that May had met with firefighters before victims. To quell the rising frustration, the British government promised to allocate more money to support and get them into new housing as quickly as possible.
For many, it wasn’t enough—especially those who saw the tragedy as totally avoidable. Documents obtained by BBC revealed that the cladding—or siding—on the building was extremely flammable, and that the council overseeing the building chose it to save money on a refurbishment. (They saved £293,000). Similar buildings subsequently had their cladding tested and failed, too. A public inquiry followed, and days later, the officials responsible for managing the Grenfell tower resigned.
A BBC investigation also found that the fire department was not even properly trained or equipped to fight the blaze. Challenges such as low water pressure and radio problems hindered their efforts, while equipment—like a tall ladder—was either lacking or had not arrived before the fire.
One year later, the remains of the tower were illuminated to mark the anniversary of the disaster.