There is a kind of panic in Britain right now due to the Grenfell Tower fire and what it has exposed about the high rise buildings (4,000 of them I'm told) used for "social housing" all across the UK.
Many have exterior cladding supplied by the same company as that which supplied cladding for the Grenfell Tower, cladding which undoubtedly contributed to the spread of the fire on the exterior of the building.
It's puzzled me why the fires burned so fiercely inside the flats, however, and why so many people were unable to escape.
Supposedly, these buildings are constructed to confine fire to individual flats. Fire shouldn't be able to spread like it did at Grenfell, even if the exterior cladding is combustible. Or so you would think.
But other factors appear to have been involved that ensured the building lit up like a torch, inside and out, within minutes of the flames first being spotted on the outside -- which was itself within minutes of extinguishing a "fridge fire" in a fourth floor apartment. As far as I can tell, that fire was caused by a shorted out refrigerator plug, but I'm not entirely sure because I've seen no details of just what set off that fire.
Other factors include wiring within the flats that may have been "illegal." Wiring and positioning of plugs was of particular concern according to the residents' association. This may have contributed to the "fridge fire."
In addition, new-ish gas piping was exposed throughout the building, though promises had been made to box it in with fire resistant materials. Some of that boxing had been accomplished, primarily the vertical runs in the stairwell (singular) but there were exposed gas pipes running to each flat near the ceilings in the hallways on each floor. Some residents who escaped said they heard explosions and saw blue flames emitted from these pipes as they fled the building.
Finally, there was only one stairwell for escape; once the upper floors were involved in the fire, there was no way to reach it or use it. Most of those on the upper floors were trapped with no way out.
Some died in the stairwell from smoke and fumes.
There were no fire sprinklers in the building because they were not considered necessary due to construction that was supposed to isolate and confine fires. There may not have been interior fire hoses (not entirely clear). Residents stated there were no building-wide fire alarms, and residents themselves went door to door to warn of the approaching fire.
Residents also stated that the window frames were vinyl and melted in the heat of the exterior fire which allowed the flames to enter flats from the outside.
Given all these factors, the building was manifestly unsafe for habitation, unsafe in part because of recent "improvements" -- such as the combustible cladding and the exposed gas piping. It was a torch waiting to be lit.
How many other social housing towers in Britain are like this is anyone's guess, but at this point, every building whose cladding has been tested has failed. There are said to be 600 + buildings across Britain with suspect cladding; not just housing but schools and hospitals as well. Almost all of them -- of course -- serve the less well off.
How many of them also have hazardous or "illegal" wiring? How many of them have exposed gas pipes?
How many of them have only one stairwell exit that becomes unusable in a fire?
How many of them have vinyl window frames that will melt in a fire?
How many of them have no fire alarms, no interior sprinklers, no interior fire hoses?
In other words, how many of them are as manifestly unsafe as Grenfell? Why in the name of all that's holy were people living (and then dying) in Grenfell, and what will be done about all the other unsafe buildings people are living in?
According to reports, thousands of residents have been told to leave their tower blocks while "safety repairs" are undertaken. Some are resisting as people will do under the circumstances. Reports indicate that ultimately hundreds of thousands of people may be displaced, schools and hospitals closed, and so on, as the extent of the cockup and the fire hazards become better understood.
From the beginning, though, I've suspected that there was a deliberate intent, if you will, behind the suddenly discovered fire hazard. The cladding was known to be combustible but it was used anyway because it was a little bit cheaper than comparable less combustible cladding. The exposed gas pipes were hazardous on their face, and promised to enclose them were not kept in a timely fashion. The building was designed with only one stairwell, too bad if residents couldn't make use of it to escape.
In other words, the hazards were known, the failure was built in, and in a sense the tragedy was meant to happen, an inevitability given the unwillingness of The Powers That Be to ensure the safety of the residents. Those who say it was murder have a point. At the very least it was negligent homicide.
And given the way these sorts of things have devolved in the past, nothing will be done to improve the situation for the victims. But quite a few people will see their power enhanced and their wealth improved from "trying."
What have we done to deserve this?