The fire

The first reports of the fire on WhatsApp were at 3:39pm on Sunday 9th June.

The fire took place on the east facing side of Samuel Garside House.

Chair Pete Mason reports:

At 3:57pm, Yasir Imran from Samuel Garside House called me on the phone.

All I could hear was screaming and panic. After a while his voice came on the phone, in a state of shock,  to tell me that Samuel Garside  house was on fire, and I rushed over.

I saw the fire helicopter land nearby and the flames extinguished. I stood with residents whose most prized possessions, irreplaceable and invaluable, had been utterly destroyed.

A video of the fire is presented an earlier section of this report entitled The London Fire Brigade report, the video and the timeline of the fire and will not be repeated here.

Residents fought like lions in the time before the Fire Brigade arrived, as the fire spread rapidly across the building, to alert all those inside to the danger, including running into the building to do so. It was incredible that no one had died. the reason for this was only that it had happened mid-afternoon rather than at night.

The Architects Journal reported:

“Fire expert Sam Webb said that had the fire occurred 12 hours later, ’we would have woken up to a death toll to rival Grenfell’ and that balcony fires were becoming increasingly frequent.”

(Architects Journal, “Developer ‘highly likely’ to replace wooden balconies after Barking Riverside fire”, 12 June 2020)

Architects Journal 12 June 2020
Architects Journal 12 June 2020

Councillor Geddes told me that nothing like it had ever happened in the borough in the entire time he had been a councillor.

Housing crisis greatest since Second World War

What it indicated above all was the utter crisis in which housing had been plunged by the ruthless destruction of standards.

In our residents association email to the London Fire Brigade of 18 February 2020, appealing to them to release their report of the fire, we state:

“…it is essential that I express  on behalf of all residents, our full support for our firefighters and our condemnation of the cuts to the fire service. 

“As Roy Wilsher, former firefighter and chair of the National Fire Chiefs’ Council, told residents gathered at the U.K. Cladding Action Group meeting in City Hall on the 6th February, since the banking collapse of 2007-8, 40% of fire safety staff had been cut due to government austerity measures. 

“This is a crime tantamount to manslaughter, which manifested itself in the Grenfell Tower disaster. It was disgraceful that the press felt it necessary to hound the fire services instead of the government on this issue.”

We go on to reference the video of the fire mentioned here.

“Although it does not show how the fire started, it shows how the fire spread from the first two flats to the ten destroyed flats in the space of four minutes. On the timeline of the video, the fire brigade begin attacking the flames at 7 minutes 43 seconds from the start of filming, but of course it does not indicate when the service was called. The flames substantially damp down.

“However, the video also shows that from 11m 42s until 19m 28s there were no hoses on the fire and the fire revives throughout the affected area quite substantially.”

It is impossible to describe the distress this caused the fleeing residents. However, the London Fire Brigade report into the fire explains what happened. The recently leaked report reveals for the first time that firefighters were heroically deployed into the burning building after a credible 999 call of two people trapped in a specific flat within. Fortunately there was no one trapped. Unfortunately the fire revived.

As explained in detail in the timeline, the London Fire Brigade report into the fire states explicitly that they did not have the location of fire hydrants on their system at the time. Although, once the firefighters returned, they still had plenty of water in the fire engines, and were able to once again suppress the fire, residents tell us the fire fighters were nevertheless of course urgently trying to find operating fire hydrants before their tanks ran out.

Our email continues:

“Bigger picture

“The bigger picture is that this fire should never have spread from one flat to another, had building regulations not been obfuscated by negligent government advice, so that continuous wood balconies were allowed on the external walls of these flats, swiftly taking the fire vertically and laterally to adjacent flats.  One or two fire engines would have been sufficient for a balcony fire, were it not for these issues.”

This is entirely confirmed by the conclusions of the London Fire Brigade report. The materials the balconies were constructed out of, identified as the cause of the spread of the fire, failed to perform even to grade D rated materials. They failed to perform according to their own pitifully inadequate standards. They were an accident waiting to happen.

The council

The council stepped in immediately,  and organised buses to transport the displaced residents, who were gathered watching the progression of the fire fighting effort, to council facilities at nearby Bastable Avenue,  where displaced residents were supplied with food and clothing and other essentials, and hotel accommodation booked for the night was organised, urgent medical supplies facilitated and so forth.

Although residents had kept calm throughout the day – once everyone had got out – and although they had always acted with huge restraint, in a display of tremendous bravery,  it was inevitable that they were deeply distressed.

For many months thereafter, residents were placed in hotel rooms without facilities for feeding small children, limited anglocentric food. These were first booked on a daily and then a weekly basis,  with residents not knowing from one week to the next where they would be living.

The original daily bookings meant they were unable to attend work, because they had to check out every morning with their family and what possessions they had. These became additional distressing factors. Residents who had been traumatized by the event, faced what they experienced as distressing and persistent demands that they return to the undamaged flats.

Some experienced post traumatic stress disorder, and were unable to face the ordeal at all.

We have gathered many of the news broadcasts that covered the fire and the immediate aftermath here which accompany the previously mentioned testimony videos.