Grenfell Tower fire

The Grenfell Tower fire was a deadly fire in a high-rise building in London on 14 June 2017, accelerated by the use of highly flammable cladding on the outside of the building, that killed 72 people.

The apartments in the building were largely social housing; some were owned by their residents, who’d purchased them through the UK’s “right to buy” scheme. Because it was largely social housing, it’s alleged that the council was basically indifferent to safety measures that might have saved more lives, instead being more concerned with how those safety measures could increase their costs (believing that social housing tenants were naturally going to “abuse” safety measures to do vandalism, or something). The council in question was the borough of Kensington & Chelsea, which is mostly an extremely affluent part of London. Residents of Grenfell Tower felt that the council saw them as a nuisance; one resident had tried to alert the council to the danger of the flammable cladding, and the council had responded by seeking legal advice as to whether they could bring procedings against him for libel.

The death toll was aggravated by the fact that when residents started calling in about the fire, the emergency line told them to “stay in place” and not try to evacuate. Apparently this is the long-standing practice of UK fire services, that they actively tell people not to evacuate. If that is even ever a good strategy, it definitely wasn’t in this case. The flammable cladding had the same effect as petrol all down the outside walls; it made the blaze impossible to combat effectively by firefighters.

Australia is another country where the kind of flammable cladding that proved so deadly in the UK is widely used on apartment buildings. Governments here have moved to protect the builders and the sellers of afflicted properties. There is no publicly-viewable register, for example, of afflicted apartments; instead, people have to wait until they’ve actually bought one of the properties to find out whether they’re affected.

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