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Report: Grenfell Refurb Added Fuel to Fire

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

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As the hearings for the public inquiry into London’s fatal Grenfell Tower fire draw near, a 210-page report on the incident blaming the 2014-16 refurbishment for the fatal blaze has surfaced.

The investigation and technical report, carried out by U.K. building research company BRE Global for the Metropolitan police, was made available to British newspaper the Evening Standard, which broke down the findings.

The Report

The investigation verified that the fire started in a fridge-freezer in an apartment on the fourth floor. The blaze then spread to a nearby window.

ChiralJon, CC-SA-BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As the hearings for the public inquiry into London’s fatal Grenfell Tower fire draw near, a 210-page report on the incident blaming the 2014-16 refurbishment for the fatal blaze has surfaced.

(At this juncture, some officials are quick to suspect that had the 1970s 24-story building been equipped with a sprinkler system, it’s feasible the fire could have been prevented. More tests will be done, however, as it is unclear whether or not a sprinkler in the middle of the room or apartment would have reached the fire.)

Instead of the window creating a hurdle or barrier for the fire, the report suggests that it instead fueled the blaze because of its deficiencies, the first of many that the experts found in relation to the tower’s recent refurbishment.

The report notes that the window frames were “significantly narrower than the gap between the concrete surfaces of the columns, 150mm narrower,” leaving spaces on either side, which were filled with a rubber membrane, foam insulation and uPVC lightweight panels—none of which had a proven fire resistance of more than 30 minutes.

Therefore, the fire spread through the window into the cavity of the building, which was also deficient. The cavity barriers, which are supposed to expand and seal the gap between concrete floors, were the wrong size. The ones installed, according to the investigation, were able to close a gap of 25 millimeters, but the size of the actual gaps in between floors is 50 millimeters. In addition to the size discrepancy, some barriers were installed incorrectly, the report notes.

This, the experts said, created a chimney-like effect through the building’s cladding, which contained combustible insulation and an aluminum composite material paired with a highly combustible polyethylene core.

Once the fire traveled the facade, it found its way back into other apartments through the same type of faulty windows. This prompted residents to flee, where another deficiency reared: faulty door closers. The study showed that in the apartments that were on floors four through 23, only 17 percent were confirmed to have present and working door closers.

Natalie Oxford, CC-SA-BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Once the fire traveled the facade, it found its way back into other apartments through the same type of faulty windows.

The absence of these aided the fire in spreading into the communal areas and stairwell and ensured that the fire engulfed the building and took 71 lives.

The Evening Standard showed the document to a “specialist architect,” who said:

“The question is: could this fire have been avoided? This damning report is saying it absolutely could have been and that the refurb was to blame.

“Construction around the cavity barriers and windows was particularly poor. The uPVC used in the panels to close the gap around the windows was a terrible mistake. It has no fire integrity and provided a vulnerable route for fire to spread.

“These findings could result in people going to prison. But the report has left open the vital question as to whether the design or the installation was at fault, whether the works were approved and/or inspected, or whether it was a combination of all of these.

“The buck stops with the owner of the building Kensington and Chelsea council, and its management organization, which have ultimate duty of care. Some people will not be sleeping well at night once this report is made public. You read it and think: Heads are going to roll.”

The public hearings are expected to begin late next month.

   

Tagged categories: Aluminum; Fatalities; Fire; Fireproofing; Health and safety; Polyethylene; Safety

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