Grenfell cladding “crown” was ‘instrumental’ in fire spread
THE INQUIRY into the June 2017 fire heard that the architectural ‘crown’ of cladding designed to make the tower ‘look nice’ was ‘instrumental’ in the fire’s spread around the tower.
Earlier this year, the inquiry began looking at the ‘factual narrative’ of the events, with expert witnesses describing the various safety failures in the tower and a ‘culture of non compliance’. After the inquiry resumed once more, a fire station manager stated that ‘vital’ plans for the tower were not able to be found in the lobby of the building. It then heard from 999 operators that due to a policy not to recontact callers, residents were not told to evacuate when policy changed.
In September, one of the fire commanders stated that ‘the building let us all down’, before London Fire Brigade (LFB) commissioner Dany Cotton admitted that she had no knowledge of cladding risks despite an LFB presentation created only a year before the fire. Yesterday, the inquiry heard two different experts note that flames spread in ‘just over 10 minutes’ to the outside of the tower, and that cladding issues ‘have been known for decades’.
The Daily Mail reported on further evidence from Arup’s Dr Barbara Lane, who stated that the cladding crown atop the tower – an ‘architectural feature’ added ‘to make it look nice, I suppose’ – was ‘instrumental in the deadly fire there spreading’, as it was made of cladding containing combustible polyethylene (PE). She stated that helicopter footage of the fire showed its spread, with burning PE flowing down the sides of the tower.
Dr Lane added that ‘once the flames got up to level 23 in the first place above Flat 16, it appears then to have been able to travel horizontally in both directions through the crown’, and noted that it was ‘significant’ how the crown affected flats on the top floor directly below, ‘where a large number of people died’. She added that the only way ‘you could stop the crown from being a flame front on its own is to not clad it in a combustible material’.
This was in response to a question as to whether any fire safety measures could have been installed to stop fire spread around the top of the tower, while Dr Lane also highlighted a ‘litany’ of fire safety flaws across the tower ‘introduced over more than a decade’, and pointed out that safety measures were ‘not suitable’, with many external materials flammable.
She concluded that once there was a fire in a flat anywhere near a window, there was a ‘very high likelihood’ it would break out into the cladding, adding: ‘At every turn there is something there that can participate in the combustion process, so all the time the flame front has something that will allow it to carry on.’