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Experts speculate a possible cause for the Grenfell fire

When the Grenfell Tower in North Kensington started to burn on 14th June 2017 no one could have foreseen the consequences that would follow. 71 people lost their lives that night in what has been frequently described as a “preventable tragedy.” Even before the flames had died down there were multiple calls to establish exactly what had caused the building to burn in the way that it had and why there had been so many victims.

What was the cause of the Grenfell Tower fire?

The blaze was begun on the fourth floor of the building when a fault with a Hotpoint fridge freezer – model number FF175BP – caused it to burst into flame. This has been confirmed by investigators as the ignition point of the fire. However, it was what happened after that smaller fire that so shocked all of those involved. Because, even after firefighters had extinguished the fire that was caused by the Hotpoint fridge freezer the flames continued to consume the building and it’s that element of the fire that is causing the most controversy.

Why did the building continue to burn?

In 2015 – 2016 Grenfell Tower underwent a £10 million refurbishment. Part of the refurbishment of the building included recladding the entire building with the materials that many allege would have been an accelerating factor in helping the building to burn. Although the public enquiry has yet to conclude there has been plenty of speculation as to why the tower became such an inferno. Principally, it is the combination of cladding and insulation that has caused the most concern. It was reported that in 2014 experts warned that insulation planned for the building was only suitable if used with non-combustible cladding, not the type that was going to be used for the Grenfell Tower refit. According to the police, when safety tests were conducted after the fire both the aluminium-polyethylene cladding and the PIR insulation plates failed.

So, who was to blame?

This is a question that only the enquiry can answer but the issues that resulted in the Grenfell fire go much deeper than just decisions about materials. And for the construction industry they have caused some uncomfortable moments. In particular, there has been a lot of criticism of the multiple companies that were involved in the Grenfell refit. The Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation hired a lead contractor but there were then at least eight other contractors and sub-contractors involved in various elements of the refurbishment. Serious concerns have been raised over whether these multiple parties caused a serious lack of oversight. There are also claims that partial privatisation of the building inspection regime has resulted in a race to reduce fees and limit safety inspections, which could also have played a part.

While the industry – and the public – await the outcome of the Grenfell Tower enquiry there is little to do but speculate on who was actually responsible for the fire that consumed all these living spaces and lives. However, there is no doubt that many other projects will be rethinking the chain of oversight as a result.

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