As fire service workers and trained dogs pick their way through the grim, charred remains of Grenfell Tower, we are left to contemplate what directly caused the tragedy, what circumstances might have made it more likely to happen and what we can do now and in the future to prevent such a catastrophe from occurring again. The immediate response, especially from Corbyn’s Labour party and its supporters, has been nothing short of hysterical and scandalous. They have shamelessly politicized a tragedy, deliberately turning the narrative away from the contemplation of what caused the fire to a rabble-rousing anti-austerity rhetoric which bizarrely has attempted to lay the blame for the fire firmly at the feet of Mrs May and Tory cut backs in public services, whilst also re-igniting the age old class divide between the haves and the have nots, spinning events as somehow being the terrifying result of the poor not being able to purchase their safety or make their voice heard above rich, Tory snobs intent on making the little people live in dangerous high-rises whilst they live in posh, spacious town houses and mansions in the country. Nobody spins this narrative better than the Guardian. It is, of course, utterly and completely false, but that’s not where I intend to go here. Intrepid miners of the truth will find a rich seam of weapons grade mineral hypocrisy if they care to tread that path.
What I want to look at is what basically caused the fire and what caused it to spread so quickly; I quote, ‘spreading from the 4th floor to the 18th floor in just eight minutes’. We are now aware that the fire started in a man’s flat, supposedly because his fridge ‘exploded’. We know this resident packed his bags, knocked on his neighbour’s door to inform them there was a ‘small fire’ in his kitchen (neighbour called the fire brigade), then buggered off, leaving his flat door open, seemingly making no effort whatsoever to contain the blaze. So we might have the first part of the puzzle in place, i.e.
- Criminally stupid & irresponsible resident’s response to exploding fridge.
A sprinkler system might have doused the small fire, but apparently the residents’ committee didn’t want one installed and they are not mandatory in high rises, which is quite bizarre. Another piece of the puzzle:
2. No sprinkler system
So the fire spread – quickly. Presumably, the fire brigade were called immediately by the neighbour and they took six minutes to arrive. 2 minutes after that, the fire had leapt up to the 18th floor and was effectively an uncontrollable inferno. Why?
We now know that the core material of the aluminium-clad thermal insulating panels which had been fixed to the outside of the building was the standard, plastic type, not the fire resistant type, which would have cost a measly £2 extra per square metre. Using fire-resistant rain screen thermal insulation cladding on the exterior may have bought the fire brigade those extra critical few minutes to contain the spread of the blaze. It seems likely that the guy whose fridge exploded left a window open, allowing the fire to spread quickly to the external cladding. So the third piece of the puzzle falls into place:
3. Combustible cladding fixed to the exterior of the building during the recent renovation.
There was an air gap between the original building walls and the interior face of the panels. Apparently, no effective firebreaks were in place at regular intervals in this air gap so the fire could have just freely spread very rapidly upwards along this ‘combustion chimney. Hence the final piece of the puzzle:
4. Air gap with no firebreaks = ‘combustion chimney’
These are the essential elements of the tragedy which, combined, had such tragic and devastating consequences for the residents of Grenfell Tower on that fateful day. There’s not much room for blaming Tory cuts to services or posh people in general, dumping on the lower class poor. Or is there? Yes, of course there is. Firstly, the hard pressed fire brigade might have got there even quicker if their members were paid more and they might have been able to tackle the fire more effectively with those new, 300ft high non-existent ladders which austerity prevented them from purchasing and equipping their fire engines with. Also, the only reason the panels were put up in the first place was because posh neighbours across the road complained about the ‘eyesore’ of the old building, so they decided to make it prettier with shiny new powder-coated aluminium panels. Er, no, actually.
Whereas cosmetic enhancement may have featured, it most certainly was not the main impetus for renovating Grenfell Tower, or any of the other numerous 1960s/70s high rises in London and other big cities for that matter. So what was? This might give us a clue.
It’s lifted from the EU Energy Efficiency Directive 2012 which, in the words of the European Commission, “establishes a set of binding measures to help the EU reach its 20% energy efficiency target by 2020. Under the Directive, all EU countries are required to use energy more efficiently at all stages of the energy chain, from production to final consumption”.
So, Grenfell Tower, and others, have been ‘renovated’ with flammable insulating panels not because posh people demanded they were given a make-over, but because bureaucrats in Brussels demanded that buildings in public ownership be made more energy efficient in order to reduce CO2 emissions and save the planet from man-made climate catastrophe. So if you’re searching for a political mark on which to pin some blame for this awful tragedy, look no further than EU imposed ‘green’ emissions reductions targets. Flammable core material is banned on high rise buildings in the US because they have adopted recommendations laid out in the International Building Code 2012. Germany also apparently bans the use of such materials. According to Phillip Hammond, this material is banned in the UK and across the EU on buildings greater than 18m in height. If this is correct then criminal corporate manslaughter charges look likely to be laid at the door of whoever authorised the renovation of the exterior of Grenfell. It also begs the question: how many other high rise buildings have been encased in these ‘illegal’ death trap panels, just to improve energy efficiency on the cheap and meet EU emissions reductions targets?