Grenfell Tower fire: Firefighter tells of 'war zone' scene

Grenfell Tower fire: Firefighter tells of 'war zone' scene
Members of the public bring food and water to assist people affected by a fire that has engulfed the Grenfell Tower in west London.

Update 5.22pm: A firefighter who helped tackle the Grenfell Tower blaze has compared the scene to a "war zone".

The emergency worker, called Terry, who spent eight hours working at the scene in North Kensington, said he had "seen nothing like it" during his 27 years with the fire service.

He told LBC Radio: "We had to literally run under police riot shields because of the amount of flaming debris, just to get into the building.

"There was one small staircase that everyone was going up. It was just like the images of 9/11.

"We were going up the staircase and people were coming down in smoke. I don't know how they were breathing."

Terry said he went up as far as the 10th floor, adding: "The amount of kit that this job has absorbed from the London Fire Brigade is unbelievable. It's like a war zone here."

The firefighter, who worked in the aftermath of the IRA bombing at Canary Wharf in 1996, said no amount of planning could prepare the emergency services to deal with a fire so catastrophic.

Describing the carnage and desperation of people trapped in their flats, he added: "One of my colleagues was hit by someone who jumped out of a window.

"To see a whole 24-storey building go up in flames - how does that happen? How does that happen in a first world country? How it happens in London in 2017 is anyone's guess."

Update 4.34pm: The family of a 12-year-old girl missing following the Grenfell Tower blaze have issued a plea for her to be found.

Schoolgirl Jessica Urbano was on the 20th floor of the tower block when she was separated from her family, who have put out numerous posts on social media to find her.

Aunt Ana Ospina, a make-up artist, told the Press Association: "She last spoke to her mum when she borrowed a phone and told her she was on the stairs with other people.

"We then have had unconfirmed reports/sightings of her outside of the flats and also being put into an ambulance, but we have checked hospitals and no news.

"She hasn't been found yet. We are doing a second visit to the hospitals and also the centres in and around Latimer Road."

The Metropolitan Police said anyone with concerns or information about people affected by the fire should call the Casualty Bureau on 0800 0961 233.

Jessica Urbano.
Jessica Urbano.

Update 3.24pm: More harrowing eyewitness accounts of the Grenfell Tower blaze have been emerging this afternoon.

In one account a panicked parent was seen throwing her children from a window in the block shortly after 2am, one witness said.

Joe Walsh, 58, said: "I saw the parent throw two kids out of the window.

"I don’t know where they landed because I was on the other side.

"I doubt anyone caught them, I hope they did.

"It wasn’t that high up - it would have been the fifth or sixth floor up. There were still people screaming at quarter to four this morning."

Grenfell Tower fire: Firefighter tells of 'war zone' scene

Student Tiago Etienne, 17, said he also saw families throw their children out of windows.

He said he saw people drop from around the 15th floor but it was hard to tell in the darkness of the early hours.

He said: "I saw about three children between the ages of four and eight being thrown."

He said he thought they were being sent down to firefighters because they were not letting the civilians who were there get close.

The screams of the residents had alerted him to the fire.

He said: "I could hear the screaming.

"From where I was it sounded like people were directly outside.

"It was loud. It was terrible."

Grenfell Tower fire: Firefighter tells of 'war zone' scene

A long-time neighbour to the block, who saw the destruction unfold, said she at first feared terrorists were responsible.

Muna Ali, 45, said: "The flames, I have never seen anything like it, it just reminded me of 9/11.

"The fire started on the upper floors ... oh my goodness, it spread so quickly, it had completely spread within half an hour.

"My friends live on the fourth floor, someone knocked on their door, they didn’t know and they got out. They have three children.

"Some people were knocking on doors but the people inside didn’t open the door.

"I have lived here almost 21 years and I have never seen anything like this, at first I thought it was terrorism, we were just panicking."

Eyewitness Samira told BBC News: "It escalated really quickly.

"Around midnight the fire was only around the third floor and then, before you know it, the whole 23 (sic) floors of the building were all on fire and there were people screaming for help and throwing kids out.

"I think everyone felt really helpless because no-one could get to them.

"Everyone was really scared and they didn’t know what to do and it was really sad to see.

"These are all people that we grew up with and people that we see every day, like our neighbours.

"There was a lot of people there, children, elderly people and disabled people; my family members, who thankfully made it out.

"But there are still a lot of people who are unaccounted for."

Witness Tamara told BBC News: "Around 12.30/1am my mum called me and said there was a fire outside.

"By the time I got there the whole right side of the building was on fire, the whole thing was engulfed in flames.

"We could hear people screaming ’Help me’ so me and my brother, with some other people who live in the area, ran over to the estate to where you could still get underneath it and there were people just throwing their kids out saying ’Save my children’.

"The fire crew, ambulance and police couldn’t do anything, they couldn’t get in, and they were just telling them to stay where they are, and we’ll come and get you.

"But things quickly escalated beyond measure and they couldn’t go back in and get them.

"Within another 15 minutes the whole thing was up in flames and there were still people at their windows shouting ’Help me’.

"You could see the fire going into their houses and engulfing the last room that they were in."

Grenfell Tower fire: Firefighter tells of 'war zone' scene

Ann Waters lives in a house at the foot of the tower and was forced to flee her home when burning debris began raining down.

The 57-year-old said: "It was the screaming that was the worst and I could hear that from the ground, all I could hear was ’Help, help, help’.

"I was watching TV in bed and I could smell smoke and then I heard a fire engine and I jumped up.

"I went to my back bedroom, I thought if something was on fire I would see, and I was just speechless. The guy next door was screaming at people to get out of the building.

"Then about 20 minutes later, when I went out the front, I could see all the debris coming down and I could see the crap coming down and a police officer told me to shut the door and leave and go to the end of the road.

"It was like something out of a nightmare."

Mahad Egal escaped from his flat on the fourth floor with his family, including two small children, just before 1am.

He was reduced to tears as he recounted the terrible events of the night on the Victoria Derbyshire show: "The fire started on the fourth floor, my neighbour told me it was his fridge that exploded.

"We were one of the first 10 families who got out no later then 1.10am and at this point the fire was no higher than an average tree.

"At first it seemed it was controllable, but really quickly the fire started to rise as the cladding caught fire.

"Initially we thought it would be fine and the firefighters would be able to put the fire out. But there was a sense of hesitation from the firefighters; they didn’t start putting out the fire with water until 3am."

"There is a stay-put policy that says in case of an emergency if you are within your property stay in.

"I have lived in Grenfell Tower since February and since then I have been campaigning against the safety shortfalls.

"For example, the gas pipes that were being installed in the stairwell, that is hazardous and temperamental. This was one of the reasons people were not leaving their flats as they would have assumed it was safer to stay in their flats.

"There stairwells were full of smoke, dark, scary, and a trip hazard and fall hazard as some lights weren’t working. It is incredible we survived.

"So many people were left; we had so many relatives and families who were still trapped in, calling and saying please let the fire services know that we are still here.

"There was a kid that called and said that he’s trapped in his room. It is a very terrible situation and I can confirm that lives have been lost. There has been fatalities of some of our friends, families, loved ones and neighbours."

Tearfully, he added: There were people jumping out of the place, a man who threw two of his children out."

Grenfell Tower fire: Firefighter tells of 'war zone' scene

Emma, who lives locally, said: "I saw something on social media about Grenfell Tower around 12.20am and so my first instinct was to get everyone in the house to help out.

"I could hear people screaming and asking for help. I heard one woman say ’I’ve got a baby, I’m trapped, please help us get out’. The fire was massive on one side of the building."

Paul Mennacer, who lived on the seventh floor of Grenfell Tower, said: "I got woken up by people screaming, saying ’Don’t jump’. There was black smoke coming at me and my instinct told me ’Just grab your shoes and run out’.

"It was hard to get out because the fire exit stairwell was on the side of the fire and so there was a lot of debris falling.

"It was the cladding that was on fire and that’s what was burning, people believe that it was the cladding."

Update - 1.11pm: Friends are searching for a mother and daughter who said "Please pray for me" as the fire blazed through Grenfell Tower.

Artist Khadija Saye, 24, who is currently showing her art work in the Venice Biennale, was in her flat on the 20th floor, with her mother, Mary Mendy, who is thought to be in her 50s.

Her friend, Nicola Green, said: "We’re desperately trying to communicate with all the hospitals.

"We’re told some people have been rescued up to the 19th and 20th floor. She was on the 20th floor. Nobody has any information at this point."

Ms Green said that Ms Saye was last heard from at 3am when she was direct messaging from her flat, as her phone was not working.

"She was on Facebook saying she was unable to get out of the flat, that the smoke was so thick," Ms Green said.

"She was saying she just can’t get out and ’Please pray for me. There’s a fire in my council block. I can’t leave the flat. Please pray for me and my mum.’

"At one point she said she’d just tried to leave again and said it was impossible. She said she felt like she was going to faint.

"Someone asked ’Did you try going down low with towels?’ She said ’Yes, it’s in my room’. I’m assuming she meant the smoke."


Ms Saye’s work is currently on show in Venice, responding to the theme of diaspora.

Ms Green, who has mentored her friend and fellow artist for four years, added: "She’s one of the most beautiful, kind and soulful people I’ve ever met. She always wears a map of Africa around her neck.

"We are all praying for her. She’s got artists and friends and colleagues all praying for her."

She added: "She’s got a huge career ahead of her. She’s received an enormous amount of attention in her first major exhibition. She’s an incredible, amazing, soulful artist."

Update - 12.01pm: A woman forced to flee burning Grenfell Tower with her young child has claimed their warnings that a refurbishment posed safety risks were ignored.

Turafat Yilma, a 39-year-old resident on the building’s seventh floor, was awoken by a call from her neighbour on the 17th floor telling her to escape.

The dense smoke filling the corridors meant she was unable to get to safety with her five-year-old son Abem and husband Abraham, 44, until the fire brigade arrived.

Speaking as smoke billowed from the tower’s charred remains in the background, the mother said: "There was no fire around at all and after around 40 minutes a friend of ours called us from the 17th floor to tell us to get out - there is a fire.

"I tried to escape but the smoke was so heavy, so we thought just call 999 because I could not use the staircase.

Grenfell Tower fire: Firefighter tells of 'war zone' scene

"A fireman came and knocked on the door and all of us just had to follow them, my husband carrying my son and just me, it took us less than five minutes.

"I wasn’t aware the fire was so large until we came outside.

"The flames were from the fourth floor and it just went up 10 floors and it was really bad at the time, it was really really bad.

"I was thinking just through this with us all alive, nothing that we have, all our belongings, were important."

She said along with neighbours they had flagged concerns to the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation about the building’s recent revamp, which had fallen on deaf ears.

"When this was refurbished a year ago we were against it for safety, this was our worry - if one fire started this place would go down and that is what has happened.

"They didn’t listen, we even went to the MP, Victoria Borwick, we had quite a few meetings - this is what happens."

Update - 10.45am: A baby was caught by a member of the public after being dropped from Grenfell Tower as it was engulfed with flames, a witness said.

Samira Lamrani said she saw a woman try to save a baby by dropping it from a window "on the ninth or 10th floor" to waiting members of the public below.

She told the Press Association: "People were starting to appear at the windows, frantically banging and screaming.

"The windows were slightly ajar, a woman was gesturing that she was about to throw her baby and if somebody could catch her baby.

"Somebody did, a gentleman ran forward and managed to grab the baby."

She added: "I could see people from all angles, banging and screaming for help.

"Us members of the public were reassuring them, telling them we’ve done what we can and that we’ve phoned 999, but obviously the look on their face was death.

"My daughter’s friend said she observed an adult who made some sort of homemade parachute and tried to lower himself out of the window.

"The more I looked up, floor upon floor. Endless numbers of people.

"Mainly the kids, because obviously their voices, with their high pitched voices - that will remain with me for a long time.

"I could hear them screaming for their lives."

Another resident, called Zara, said she saw a woman throw her son, who was about five years old, from a fifth or sixth floor window to escape the blaze.

She told LBC: "One woman actually threw her son out of the window. I think he’s OK.

"I think he might have just had some broken bones and bruises.

"I left my phone at home so I went back to grab it and, by the time I got back, the road was completely blocked off, the fire had dramatically spread.

"It was like a scene from a Hollywood movie."

Asked about which floor the boy was thrown from, she said she thought it was the fifth or even the sixth.

"There was another woman screaming ’my baby, my baby, I need to get out, I need to save my baby’.

"But we were just looking up.

"We couldn’t do anything.

"There was nothing we could do."

Another caller, Linda, told the station how she watched huge chunks of polystyrene type material falling from the building.

"It was everywhere, it was like snow," she said.

"There were larger sheets and small pieces.

"It was coming down everywhere."

Earlier: Witnesses have described screams of terror and people jumping in a bid to reach safety after the blaze ripped through Grenfell Tower in London.

Others spoke of safety concerns and the panic sparkled by unfounded fears terrorism could be to blame for the disastrous fire.

One witness described hearing a neighbour screaming for help before apparently jumping out as flames engulfed his seventh-storey flat.

Speaking from an evacuation centre on Freston Road, the woman, who asked not to be named, said: "We were being evacuated from Testerton Walk, which is next to Grenfell, at about 1am, at that point it looked like just one side of the building was on fire, but within about 40 minutes we could see at least three sides were burning.

"There was a woman stood behind me who was shouting to someone she knew on the seventh floor.

"She was on the phone trying to speak to him, she was obviously very emotional because the flats were blazing at this point.

"He looked like he was screaming to her.

Grenfell Tower fire: Firefighter tells of 'war zone' scene

"Police said for anyone at the windows to wave a rag or something so the firemen could rescue them, but we thought: how are they gonna do that?

"I saw the woman later and she was hysterical.

"She said her friend jumped.

"The whole of his window was on fire."

She added: "Everybody was crying. Nobody really knew what was going, or what is happening from now on.

"Where do people go? People have been saying the whole building could collapse at any stage. So frightening."

A long-time neighbour to the block, who saw the destruction unfold, said she at first feared terrorists were responsible.

Muna Ali, 45, said: "The flames, I have never seen anything like it, it just reminded me of 9/11.

"The fire started on the upper floors ... oh my goodness, it spread so quickly, it had completely spread within half an hour.

"My friends live on the fourth floor, someone knocked on their door, they didn’t know and they got out. They have three children.

"Some people were knocking on doors but the people inside didn’t open the door.

"I have lived here almost 21 years and I have never seen anything like this, at first I thought it was terrorism, we were just panicking."

Grenfell Tower fire: Firefighter tells of 'war zone' scene

A man who lived on the 17th floor of the block, identified as Methrob, told LBC Radio: "I heard the fire trucks and so I was alerted that something was going on.

"There was no fire alarm in the building, we don’t have an integrated fire alarm system.

"I went outside my house and I could smell the smoke.

"I looked out my window, I leaned over and I could see the fire blazing up.

"I woke up my auntie who was sleeping, it was about 1.15am, and we started to make our way down.

"I warned a couple of my neighbours, the ones nearest to me, and we basically went as fast as we could."

He said the fire was inside one apartment, but added the "real issue was when it caught fire to the cladding outside.

"That’s when I noticed the fire from outside when I looked out the window.

"By the time that we got downstairs, the fire had gone all the way up and it was just about reaching our windows on the 17th floor.

"The whole one side of the building was on fire.

"The cladding went up like a matchstick."

Methrob said residents had been concerned about safety, adding there had been warnings "for over a year".

He said one man was "trying to get everyone to get together to do something before it was too late".

Another witness, Samira, told BBC News: "It escalated really quickly.

"Around midnight the fire was only around the third floor and then, before you know it, the whole 23 (sic) floors of the building were all on fire and there were people screaming for help and throwing kids out.

"I think everyone felt really helpless because no-one could get to them.

"Everyone was really scared and they didn’t know what to do and it was really sad to see.

"These are all people that we grew up with and people that we see every day, like our neighbours.

"There was a lot of people there, children, elderly people and disabled people; my family members, who thankfully made it out.

"But there are still a lot of people who are unaccounted for."

Joanna O’Connor, a local resident, told Sky News: "At about 2am woken up by screaming, sirens and helicopters.

"We came outside and were confronted with the building that was completely engulfed in flames.

"It was a real shock and there were hundreds of people lining the streets, we could still hear screaming from the building and people were milling around in shock crying.

"One of our neighbours, her sister, husband and children were in the building, it was their neighbours’ flat that caught fire.

"So it’s very close to us, we’ve got neighbours whose families are in that building."

Local resident Tamara told BBC News: "Around 12.30/1am my mum called me and said there was a fire outside.

"By the time I got there the whole right side of the building was on fire, the whole thing was engulfed in flames.

"We could hear people screaming ’help me’ so me and my brother, with some other people who live in the area, ran over to the estate to where you could still get underneath it and there were people just throwing their kids out saying ’save my children’.

"The fire crew, ambulance and police couldn’t do anything, they couldn’t get in, and they were just telling them to stay where they are, and we’ll come and get you.

"But things quickly escalated beyond measure and they couldn’t go back in and get them.

"Within another 15 minutes the whole thing was up in flames and there were still people at their windows shouting ’help me’.

"You could see the fire going into their houses and engulfing the last room that they were in."

Tamara went on: "My brother has a lot of school friends who are still wondering if their friends have made it out, they haven’t got in contact with them or heard anything.

"One of the girls lives on the top floor, which the police advised that if you were living on that floor that it is most likely that they haven’t made it."

Samira added: "I think the speed of the fire was the most shocking thing for everyone, how quick it literally went from zero to 100.

"Like it was literally just the fourth floor and that was bad but it was really minor, and that building is really big and the whole building was gone, even before it hit 1am the whole building was in flames.

"I saw people flying out of their balconies and windows.

"I saw a man who flew out of his window, I saw people screaming for help.

"We saw a lot of people jumping out that basically didn’t make it.

"It was from the eighth floor and up, and that kind of floor you wouldn’t really make it."

Ann Waters lives in a house at the foot of the tower and was forced to flee her home when burning debris began raining down.

The 57-year-old said: "It was the screaming that was the worst and I could hear that from the ground, all I could hear was ’help, help, help’.

"I was watching TV in bed and I could smell smoke and then I heard a fire engine and I jumped up.

"I went to my back bedroom, I thought if something was on fire I would see, and I was just speechless, the guy next door was screaming at people to get out of the building.

"Then about 20 minutes later when I went out the front I could see all the debris coming down and I could see the crap coming down and a police officer told me to shut the door and leave and go to the end of the road.

"It was like something out of a nightmare."

Singer Cerys Matthews, who lives nearby, said she was woken by a helicopter.

The Catatonia star told BBC Radio 5 live: "When we saw it in the early hours of the morning, the fire caught on the fourth floor.

"The flames ripped up the side of the building along this cladding which clads every single side of the building."

She went on: "It’s unbelievable that we’re watching this in 2017.

"What we’re hearing is that nobody heard any alarms; that there was one exit and this is a 24-storey building. Young families, they were advised the stay put if a fire was going to break out.

"The most chilling thing is that the residents have had an action group for many years."

She said: "We’re a tight community - people from all over the world living here.

"People are just so shaken. It’s devastating. This is 2017. How can we not have had these high-density buildings safeguarded for this kind of major, major incident?

"This is London, This is the UK. This is the first world.

"The residents have been crying out for years, saying this is not safe. How can we have accepted that?"

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