London tower blocks evacuated as 27 buildings fail fire tests

Some refused to leave their high-rise apartments.

Camden Council leader Georgia Gould said it made a decision to evacuate four blocks in north London's Chalcots Estate late Friday after fire inspectors uncovered problems with "gas insulation and door stops", which, combined with the presence of flammable cladding encasing the buildings, meant residents had to leave immediately.

At least three states, as well as Washington, D.C., have deregulated the form of external building cladding investigators now believe was primarily responsible for the rapid spread of a blaze throughout Grenfell Tower fire in London on June 14, which killed at least 79 people.

The cladding was installed on the 24-storey council-owned Grenfell Tower, which was built in 1974, as part of a refurbishment completed past year.

27 London tower blocks were evacuated in the weeks following the fire as buildings failed fire safety tests.

Camden Council in north London decided that hundreds of residents at the Chalcots Estate had to leave Friday night amid safety fears linked to the deadly inferno that engulfed Grenfell Tower on June 14.

"I know it's hard, but Grenfell changes everything and I just don't believe we can take any risk with our residents' safety and I have to put them first", she said.

"Grenfell changed everything, and when told our blocks were unsafe to remain in, we acted".

Sky News quoted council Gould as saying the council secured 270 hotel rooms, 100 places in local public housing projects and asked neighbouring boroughs for support.

Ms Gould said: "There are various legal routes that Camden Council could explore to require people to leave their homes, however, we really don't want to do this".

But some residents of the Camden buildings, collectively known as Chalcots Estate, expressed frustration with the lack of information they received about the evacuations.

One person has been treated for the effects of breathing in smoke at the four-storey building on Turin Street, Bethnal Green.

Edward Strange, who lives on the 11th floor of the Taplow Tower, was on his way to the airport when he heard about the evacuation on the radio and returned to find council workers in neon security vests directing residents to a nearby community centre, where they were offered air beds on a badminton court.

"It's unbelievable. I understand that it's for our safety but they can't just ask us to evacuate with such short notice".

"They should have done it in a proper and organised way, we could have arranged to stay with our family", she added.

Until now, public attention has been focused on external cladding material that is widely used to provide insulation and enhance the appearance of buildings.

McCormack said police were investigating companies involved in the building and refurbishment of the tower, and possible "health and safety and fire safety offences".

Police said Friday that they were considering filing manslaughter charges in the Grenfell disaster and they were conducting a wide-ranging investigation that will look at everything that contributed to it.

She said local authorities were being urged to send in samples of cladding and material to be tested and "immediate action" would be taken if the materials were found not to be up to fire safety standards.

"Preliminary tests on the insulation samples from Grenfell Tower show that they combusted soon after the test started", Detective Superintendent Fiona McCormack said in a televised statement.

  • Kyle Peterson