London fire toll sure to rise

The Associated Press
Danica Kirka

LONDON–British Prime Minister Theresa May has ordered a full public inquiry into the high-rise apartment blaze that killed at least 17 people in London amid growing public anxiety about whether similar blazes could occur in other housing blocks around the country.
May moved quickly to establish exactly what caused the fire and why it moved so quickly–engulfing the building that housed as many as 600 people in less than an hour.
Fire safety engineers were stunned at the pace in which flames tore through the 120-apartment Grenfell Tower early yesterday when most people were asleep.
Senior fire officials described the progression of the fire as unprecedented.
“We need to know what happened,” a resolute May said. “We need to know an explanation.
“We owe that to the families, to the people who have lost loved ones and the homes in which they lived.”
London firefighters, many traumatized by the devastation, worked today to make the building safe so they could continue searching for more victims.
Entire families still are missing and the death toll is certain to rise.
The apartment tower is so huge there still is no exact count of the missing.
In addition, 74 people were injured in the blaze, with 37 hospitalized and 17 of them still in critical condition.
Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said it would be a “miracle” if anyone else were to be found alive.
It is unsafe for firefighters to go into parts of the 24-story tower, so the fire department is working with structural engineers to shore up the building so they can complete a “finger-tip search” of the entire structure, Cotton said.
Structures may need to be erected inside the torched building to make it safe enough to search.
Cotton said specialist dogs also would be brought in to help the search.
More stories of residents’ desperation during the catastrophe emerged.
Firefighters trying to race into the building were protected from falling debris by police officers, who placed riot shields over their heads.
One woman threw a baby out the window to escape the flames. Others tossed small children.
Some adults jumped. Their fates were unclear at this time.
“I spoke to one of my officers, who was very near when someone came out the window, and he was in tears. And he is a professional fire officer,” Cotton told Sky News.
“We like to think of ourselves as ‘roughty, toughty’ and heroes–they are heroes–but they have feelings,” Cotton added.
“People were absolutely devastated by yesterday’s events.”
More than 200 firefighters worked through the night at the public housing block.
Now that the heavy black smoke has cleared, the public only could gape at the huge burned-out hulk in west London’s working-class, multi-ethnic North Kensington neighbourhood.
A tenants’ group had complained for years about the risk of a fire in the building.
The cause of the fire is under investigation, and authorities have refused to speculate on what could have started the blaze.
But the focus has turned to renovations completed last year that added decorative touches to the building.
The renovation project included the installation of insulated exterior cladding, double-glazed windows, and a communal heating system.
Fire experts say the investigators will need to look at what materials were used and who approved their use.
The London Fire Brigade said it received the first reports of the blaze at 12:54 a.m. and the first engines arrived within six minutes.
Survivors told of frantic attempts to escape.
“The flames, I have never seen anything like it. It just reminded me of 9-11,” said Muna Ali, 45.
“The fire started on the upper floors. . . .
“Oh my goodness, it spread so quickly,” Ali added. “It had completely spread within half-an-hour.”