The Grenfell fire would not have spread beyond that flat it started in – and probably would not have claimed a single life – if the original facade of the building had not been re-clad a leaked report reveals.
Exposing an extraordinary sequence of failings that brought about the disaster, the 210 page interim report prepared by fire investigation experts BRe Global and intended to a foundation for the police investigation was leaked to the London Evening Standard.
Labelled a draft and dated to January this year, the report cites the shoddy 2014-2016 refurbishment of the tower, cataloguing at least five areas where building regulations were breached to such catastrophic effect.
The breaches include:
- New windows that were too narrow, causing gaps between the window frames and concrete structure that were filled by materials not sufficiently fire resistant, fuelling the blaze’s spread.
- Cavity barriers — meant to seal the gap between the original concrete surface of the building and the new cladding by expanding in the event of fire — were not big enough to fulfil this function. The result was to create a chimney-like effect between the inner and outer skin of the building.
- Aluminium panels and insulation used in the facade were respectively found to be “highly combustible” and “combustible”.
The report also outlines other failures to meet building regulations and explains the sequence of a blaze spread from a single fridge-freezer.
In an initial conclusion, the report says fire re would not have spread beyond that flat it started in – and probably would not have claimed a single life – if the original facade of the building had not been re-clad.
It states that the 2014-16 refurbishment failed in several fundamental areas to meet fire safety standards set out in the building regulations and, taken together, these areas proved critical for the rapid spread of flames across the length and breadth of the tower building.
The report says: Grenfell Tower, as originally built, appears to have been designed on the premise of providing very high levels of passive fire protection.
“The original facade of Grenfell Tower, comprising exposed concrete and, given its age, likely timber or metal frame windows, would not have provided a medium for fire spread up the external surface.
“In BRE’s opinion … there would have been little opportunity for a fire in a flat of Grenfell Tower to spread to any neighbouring flats.”
Instead, the experts found the “deficiencies” in the construction of the new façade fuelled the fire which spread with such ferocity that if the original building had been built to less stringent modern standards of fire resistance it probably would at least partially collapsed.
The report references an “absence of door closers” on many front doors to flats – contrary to building regulations – which saw a “significant number” of doors being inadvertently left open as residents fled.
“Where this occurred, the fire in each flat appears to have emitted large quantities of smoke and later fire directly into the immediate lobby, and these have gone on to affect the lifts and single stairwell”, the report says.
This is identified as a major failing a major failing in creating “shortcomings in compartmentation” of the fire and would have affected residents’ life chances as they tried to escape down a single stairwell.
The report also notes that individual breaches relating to the cladding system assume far greater importance when “considered in combination as opposed to when they occur in isolation”.
Fighting facilities are criticised as were “deficient”, hampered by poor access, lack of installation of a wet rising main and space for just “a single fire engine” on the hard standing at the base of the east side of the tower (PA)
With other sides of the tower inaccessible due to landscaping, a single fire engine would be “unlikely to provide sufficient pressure and flow of water for firefighting at the top of the tower” using the dry rising main.
The report says: “A building of Grenfell’s height ought to have been fitted with a wet rising main [which contains water at all times] as part of the refurbishment; instead the existing dry rising main [which has to be supplied from a fire engine] was extended and modified.”
Two other breaches of building regulations — the absence of a sprinkler system and the single stairwell being 8cm too narrow – are not regarded as weaknesses directly responsible for loss of life – with the stairwell acknowledged as “difficult and expensive to change as part of any refurbishment”.
Interim conclusions in the report were intended to assist the Metropolitan Police investigation in the gathering of documentation and the interviewing of Grenfell contractors.
The police investigation is reported to have downloaded over 30 million emails and documents from the servers of Kensington & Chelsea council and Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation.
Investigators are tracing some 500 key contractors and sub-contractors involved in the refurbishment.
Sian Berry, chair of the London Assembly housing committee said the report reinforced ‘Justice for Grenfell’ as more than a campaign slogan.
Berry said: “The residents of Grenfell were failed by many people – those who chose the materials, planned and carried out the work on their homes, but also by the council and the TMO who were responsible for overseeing the works.
“All of this needs to come out in the inquiry and the people responsible must be fully held to account.”