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Grenfell Tower Residents Wrongly Told To ‘Stay Put’ As Fire Blazed

'There was an early need for a total evacuation of Grenfell Tower.'

What you need to know
  • An expert report has found residents of London's Grenfell Tower were wrongly told to stay inside as flames engulfed the high-rise
  • Seventy-one people were killed in the fire, Britain's deadliest on domestic premises since WWII, on June 14 last year
  • A public inquiry began hearing evidence on Monday to examine the causes of the fire, the emergency response and building regulations

Residents of London’s Grenfell Tower were wrongly told to stay inside their apartments as flames engulfed the building, an inquiry has heard.

In an expert report into the deadly fire that killed 71 people on June 14 last year, fire engineer Doctor Barbara Lane found the fire department’s ‘Stay Put’ policy had “effectively failed” barely within half an hour. 

The fire started just before 1am in the kitchen of an apartment on the fourth floor, igniting the cladding around the outside of the building and reaching the 23rd floor within that time.  

Seventy-one people were killed in the fire at Grenfell Tower on June 14, 2017. Source: AAP

But Lane said residents weren’t told to evacuate for more than an hour after that, at 2:47am.

By that point, 187 people had fled the building and 107 remained inside. While 36 of those were able to evacuate, the other 71 died.

"There was an early need for a total evacuation of Grenfell Tower."

Lawyer Richard Millet, chief counsel to an inquiry investigating the blaze, said the formal maintenance of that advice until 2:47am “made all the difference between life and death”.

The judge-led inquiry began hearing evidence on Monday to examine the causes of the fire, the response of emergency services and local authorities and the country’s high-rise building regulations.

The fire started just before 1am on the fourth floor and spread to the 23rd floor within half an hour. Source: AAP

On the opening day, an audio recording of the first emergency 999 call from the night was also released.

Lane, a director of engineering firm Arup, said combustible aluminium and polyethylene cladding installed on the tower’s facade during a 2012-2016 refurbishment led to “multiple catastrophic fire-spread routes”.

She pointed to a culture of “non-compliance” with safety regulations and identified multiple failures, including failed elevators and a dysfunctional smoke ventilation system, that contributed to the fire’s spread.

A London Fire Brigade spokesman declined to comment on specific evidence emerging from the inquiry but said in general terms the ‘Stay Put’ policy -- a standard policy for fires in high-rise residential blocks -- remained unchanged.

"Our advice remains the same and that is to ‘stay put’ if a fire breaks out in another part of the building and you are not being affected by the fire, heat or smoke."

Despite this, the advice has been temporarily suspended for about 100 buildings in London that have similar cladding to that of Grenfell Tower.

Tributes are written on a wall close to the Grenfell Tower in London. Source: AAP

Monday’s hearing comes almost two weeks after family and friends delivered personal tributes to victims, ensuring they are not forgotten.

Grenfell United, a group representing survivors and bereaved families, said the inquiry was "the beginning of a long road to justice”.

More than 50 firefighters who took part in the rescue effort at Grenfell Tower are due to give advice in the coming months.

Police say individual or corporate manslaughter charges are being considered, but they have not yet been laid.

With AAP.