Barking flats fire: Residents had safety concerns before blaze

  • Published
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Local resident: "The whole thing was an inferno"

Residents at a block of flats engulfed by flames said concerns were raised with builders and the council about potential fire hazards.

Twenty flats with wooden balconies were destroyed and another 10 damaged in the fire in east London, Barking on Sunday.

Resident Rachel Mendez said: "The fire spread so so quickly. I can't even explain. It was just an inferno."

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the "shocking" fire could have "easily resulted in fatalities".

The Met Police said 15 to 18 families were evacuated from their homes and taken to the Thames View Community Centre, about a mile away from the scene.

Speaking on Twitter, Mr Khan said that "despite not having any responsibility or powers over the property", his team had been in contact with the owner of the building to "resolve issues previously raised by the residents", adding that he would be making "further contact" with them and "pushing for vital changes to be made".

Image source, Reuters
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Residents have raised concerns about the safety of wooden balconies

Following an investigation by BBC Watchdog in May, Peter Mason, chair of the Barking Reach residents' association, said he asked builder Bellway Homes to review the fire risk.

In an email seen by the BBC from the firm last month, Bellway said the construction method used on the development in Scotland examined by Watchdog was different and so the Barking homes in De Pass Gardens were not affected in the same way.

The residents' association treasurer, Venilia Batista Amorim, said questions were raised over the timber frames and wood cladding of the block following the fire at Grenfell Tower.

She said residents were reassured by Bellway Homes the materials complied with fire regulations.

"We were told that in the event of a fire, the materials - supposedly fire resistant - would give residents at least 30 minutes to evacuate.

"As we have seen, the block was engulfed in flames in about two minutes."

A Bellway Homes spokesperson said: "We are taking the matter very seriously and working with all parties to help in establishing the cause of the fire."

Image source, PA
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Firefighters took "less than six minutes" from the first 999 call to get to the scene

Faults were also identified with sprinklers and fire alarms in the building and fire wardens were put in place while the faults were fixed, Ms Batista Amorim added.

"The fire wardens left their posts about five weeks ago, having been told the faults had been sorted.

"However, the residents of this block of flats did not hear a fire alarm. They were alerted to the fire by neighbours knocking on doors," she said.

Image source, @sakukrish
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Wooden balconies on the flats could be seen burning during the height of the blaze

More than 100 firefighters tackled the blaze, which spread over six floors, for more than two hours.

London Assembly member Andrew Boff, who lives nearby and went to help get people out, said on Twitter no fire alarm sounded during the blaze, which he said was "crazy".

"At that time, only two floors were alight but when I came out, the entire building was in flames - perhaps something to do with these wooden balconies on the outside.

"I was also struck that there was no fire alarm. The fire alarms do not work - which to me, seems crazy."

Image source, Mihaela Gheorghe
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The fire was put out by 18:00 BST and its cause is being investigated

Mihaela Gheorghe said she had concerns about the safety of the wooden balconies on the flats.

"We raised several issues to the builder, the maintenance companies and the council about the safety of having all these wooden balconies," she said.

"I was in my fourth-floor flat when the fire started. We ran out.

"The fire brigade came but they found it hard to find a water supply at first."

'Everything gone'

Ms Mendez, who lived on the third floor, said her life possessions were "all gone".

"Everything is completely gone. Every sentimental thing I own has been destroyed. Just gone - like that.

"I am thankful for the fact nobody was hurt - or even killed - but I just don't know what's going to happen now."

At the scene

By BBC London's Greg McKenzie

Image source, PA
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London Fire Brigade said it received about 50 calls to the fire

Looking at the outside of the building, there must be about 50 flats that have been damaged by the blaze or from the smoke and heat coming from the fire.

Everybody is surprised and thankful nobody was seriously injured - but there are strong concerns.

Residents have said the fire alarms were not working and they were alerted by neighbours.

One woman was having an afternoon nap and got woken by a neighbour banging on the door.

Everyone is angry and wants answers as to why and how this happened.

The fire was put out by 18:00 BST and its cause is being investigated.

A man and a woman were treated for the effects of inhaling smoke. No other injuries were reported.

Fire investigators and scientific advisors remain at the scene carrying out "extensive investigations into the cause and all other circumstances of the fire", London Fire Brigade said.

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