A displaced resident of the now destroyed Grenfell Tower in London told the press after the June 14 pre-dawn fire: “A building like that wouldn’t fly in a rich area. But because everyone here is poor and working class—that’s why it happened.”
For years, residents of the 24-story tower block had complained to local government about safety violations, but they generally received a cold shoulder. The newly elected Labour Party MP for the district, Emma Dent Coad, expressed fury for the way that the Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council treated its public housing tenants. She told the Guardian that there was a clear link between the Grenfell tragedy and the council’s determination to redevelop and gentrify the district. “I can’t help thinking that poor quality materials and construction standards may have played a part in this hideous and unforgivable event.”
Many have placed blame for the disaster on the highest levels of the government and the Conservative Party. They note that after six people died in a 2009 highrise fire in Camberwell, S.E. London, the British government ordered a full review of fire safety in public housing. Former Housing Minister Gavin Barwell (now Prime Minister May’s chief of staff) delayed the review.
What we know so far:
• As of 6/19/17, the death toll is 79, and more deaths are feared. Some people jumped to avoid burning to death.
• The building housed more than 600 people.
• The building had no fire sprinklers for fire suppression. Around 4000 public housing blocks in Britain lack sprinklers.
• The government resisted efforts to have sprinklers installed.
• The building had smoke alarms in only a few apartments.
• Residents have complained of safety violations many times, including electrical power surges that caused their appliances to burn.
• Residents were told to shelter in place until help arrived.
• The building had been reclad with new siding in 2016. It appears likely that flammable foam insulation in the siding (banned in the U.S. since 2012 and perhaps also in Britain) spread the fire around the exterior of the building. Burning foam also emits toxic fumes.
• Budget cuts by the Tory (Conservative) Party are responsible for staffing shortages in the fire brigades, 10 fire station closings, and less equipment.
The Tories must answer for this crime!