On 14 June 2017, a fire started on the fourth floor of the 24-storey Grenfell Tower block of flats in North Kensington, West London killing 72 people. The Grenfell Tower fire was the catalyst for action into combustible cladding around the world.
Phase 1 of the Inquiry
On 30 October 2019, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry: Phase 1 Report was released. We understand the fire started due to an electrical fault in a large fridge-freezer in the kitchen of flat 16 on the fourth floor of the 24-storey building. The report stated that the fire was of relatively modest size and should have been contained within the confines of flat 16.
Investigators believe the fire escaped from the kitchen into the external cladding envelope of the building within minutes of it starting entering the Tower’s cladding with hot smoke impinging on the unplasticised polyvinyl chloride window jamb, causing it to deform and collapse, thereby providing an opening into the cavity between the insulation and the aluminium composite material (ACM) panels used as an exterior cladding through which flames and hot gases could pass.
The ACM panels were found to be the principal reason behind the rapid spread of flames up and around the building. The principal reason why the flames spread so rapidly up, down and around the building was the presence of the ACM panels with polyethylene cores, which acted as a source of fuel. The principal mechanism for the spread of the fire horizontally and downwards was the melting and dripping of burning polyethylene from the crown and from the spandrel and column panels, which ignited fires lower down the building. Those fires then travelled back up the building, thereby allowing the flame front to progress diagonally across each face of the tower.
It is important to note that several key fire protection measures inside the tower, including fire doors, extractor fans and compartmentation features of the buildings, had failed allowing the fire to spread with little difficulty.
Phase 2 of the Inquiry
Phase 2 of the Inquiry will seek to address, amongst other things, decisions relating to the design of the building and choice of materials, the regime for testing and certifying the reaction to fire of materials intended for use in construction, performance of key fire protection measures (fire doors and their maintenance particularly around force closing). We note that hearings had been suspended on account of COVID-19 restrictions, however limited attendance hearings will resume on Monday, 7 September 2020. You can view the streamlined hearings on the Inquiry’s website.
The Grenfell Tower fire was a tragedy, the ramifications of which continue to be endured. We await the completion of Phase 2 of the Inquiry and plan to report on its findings.
Charlotte Sinclair is formidable litigator with a focus on building, construction and major torts litigation.