London Metropolitan Police say that six people are confirmed dead in the massive fire that engulfed the 24-story Grenell Tower apartment complex in the North Kensington area of London Tuesday night. "I can confirm six fatalities at this time but this figure is likely to rise during what will be a complex recovery operation over a number of days," said police Cmdr. Stuart Cundy. London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said that the building is structurally safe, but "this is an unprecedented incident," and "in my 29 years of being a firefighter I have never, ever seen anything of this scale."
More than 250 firefighters, 40 fire trucks, and 100 ambulance medics rushed to the apartment tower starting within six minutes of getting the call at 2:54 a.m., and the building was still on fire 10 hours later. Witnesses describe people screaming from windows for help as the halls filled with thick smoke, and some jumping to their death or dropping their children — safely into arms below, in at least one case, but not in others.
Michael Paramasivan, who lives on the seventh floor with his girlfriend and her young daughter, told BBC News that the official advice in case of fire is to stay inside your apartment. "If we had stayed in that flat, we would've perished," he said. "My gut instinct told me just to get the girls out. I wrapped the little one up because of the smoke and I just got them out."
Cotton, the fire commissioner, said it was too soon to determine the cause of the fire, which apparently began on the fourth floor, but a community organization called the Grenfell Action Group had been warning about severe fire hazards since 2013, including after an $11 million update that was completed last year. Edward Daffarn, 55, said his fire alarm on the 16th floor did not go off, and he was awoken by a neighbor's phone call. "I consider this mass murder," he said, explaining that residents had complained about building safety for the London City Council for years.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan promised a thorough investigation. "We can't have a situation where people's safety is put at risk because of bad advice being given or if it is the case, as has been alleged, of tower blocks not being properly serviced or maintained," he said.