London’s fire commissioner has confirmed that the huge blaze that broke out in the early hours of Wednesday morning has finally been extinguished.
“The fire is now out, there are small pockets of smouldering, you will see wisps of smoke coming out all day due to the heat of the building and the remaining contents,” Dany Cotton told Sky News on Thursday morning.
Cotton said her crews, who had worked through the night, were “working very hard to contain the last pockets of fire”. More than 300 firefighters, coming from outside London as well as the city, had fought the blaze.
The commissioner said it would be a “miracle” if anyone had survived the blaze. “Tragically we are not expecting to find anyone else alive. The severity of the fire will mean it would be an absolute miracle for anyone to be left alive.”
So far 12 people have been confirmed dead, with 18 still in critical condition in six hospitals across the hospital. Officials have been unable to confirm the number of people still missing.
“There are we believe still an unknown number of people in the building,” Cotton said. “Due to the severity of the fire and the way things are it will take a long time for us to do that search to properly identify anyone who is left in the building, but we will do that as soon as we can in conjunction with the police.”
Cotton said her teams would be moving in to the recovery stage of the operation, once the building’s integrity had been secured. “It is not now safe for my fire crews to go all the way out to the edges of the building.
“We have had a structural surveyor come down and assist us last night. We will be working closely today with a search and rescue team who are coming in with a structural surveyor and other specialists to see how we can make it safe so we can continue working with police to do that fingertip search of the rest of the building.”
The fire commissioner reiterated that the scene confronted by her firefighters was totally unprecedented, and paid tribute to their tireless work: “The scene I was confronted with was an unparalleled scene to anything I had seen before.
“The building was ablaze. I have truly never seen that in a high-rise building. My crews did absolutely sterling work. They got in there, they were very committed, even though the building was alight from top to bottom and they were in fear of their own lives, they were in and out of that building committing time after time to rescue those people. There was never any hesitation.”
She said nine firefighters had received minor injuries, including burns, smoke inhalation, and heat exhaustion. “I was truly concerned about the safety of the building and my firefighters in there. But they were never going to stop until they physically couldn’t get in there any more,” she said.
“I spoke to some people who were truly distressed,” she said, describing how many of her crews had witnessed things they had never anticipated. “They are heroes but they have feelings,” she said, talking about an experienced officer who was reduced to tears after witnessing a tower block resident leaping form the building yesterday.
She said she was concerned about the psychological damage many of her crews would face in the future, “Not in the least of all because they knew there were still people in there and they were battling through the heat and they couldn’t get there.”
Cotton said her crews had identified the flat where the fire is believed to have started, but she refused to speculate on the cause of the fire or the subsequent investigation that politicians, local residents, and those affected are calling for.
“It will take some considerable time,” she said of the search operation. “I know that is no solace for the the people who want to hear news of lived people but we want to do this in the best way”.
–Rose Troup Buchanan