Timeline of fire, 9 June 2019

This timeline, produced by Barking Reach Residents Association Chair Pete Mason, is based on the video below, posted by Resident Association secretary Nuno Amorim, and taken by a resident from the estate. The video was shot from the area of Minter Road. We still await the official report from the London Fire Brigade.

Rapid spread along balconies

Like other videos, this video firstly shows the rapid spread of the fire once it had taken hold of the first two flats to the far right of the picture.

By 4.00 on the video timeline, (all times are given according to the video timeline) the fire has taken hold of the entire area of about 10 flats that were burned out. In those four minutes it can be seen spreading across the building following the balcony structures,  stopping where the balcony structures end for the stairwells on either side. This is also seen in other videos.

At the beginning of the video someone appears in the top flat to see the flames and people can be seen running both in and out of the building, one carrying a child.

Fire brigade arrive

The fire brigade told us they arrived within about five minutes after the 999 call, and the siren can be heard in the video at 5:38. But by this time the fire has spread to all the flats connected by the balcony decorative wood structure.

The London Fire Brigade (LFB) report arriving at 15:36:21 so we might approximate 00:05:38 in the video timeline to the actual time of 15:36:21, plus or minus a few seconds.

This gives us a rough approximation for a time of the start of the fire. We can set it at 15;30, because we know it ignited and spread rapidly, and that the call was made not long after the fire started,

The LFB state “WM [REDACTED] could see balconies from ground to roof level alight at the front of the building.” It is also not incidental that the LFB report: “At the rear of the of the block, all balconies interlinked in a continuous section along the length of the building.

“At the front of the block balconies interlinked in 5 separate sections (see plan in appendix 2).”

It is incredible to think that by the toss of a coin, the fire began at the front rather than the back,  where the devastation would have led to the complete destruction of at least half the building, if not the whole building, without a shadow of doubt. It can be speculated that with the increase in flames the speed of spread increases, explaining the explosive growth of the fire, given the type and quantity of fuel provided.

In case there was any doubt that the balconies were the cause of the spread of the fire across the building, the LFB report states:

“6.9 Charring on the wooden window and door frames leading to the balconies of the flats was deeper outside the building than inside. This was uniform across all fire damaged flats and indicated that the fire had started outside the building.” The balconies feature throughout the report.

Water appears to run out

On the timeline of the video, the fire brigade begin attacking the flames at 7.43 and damp down the flames substantially. This agrees with the LFB report noting an approximate two minute delay, taking us to 15:38:26. (Point 5.11, page 7) This delay was due to there being no indication of fire hydrants on the Mobile Data Terminals of the fire engine, the computer system that assists the firefighters. The fire fighters were forced to use their own water and call reinforcements.

However, precisely four minutes later, from 11.43 until 19.28 minutes on the timeline, the video shows there were no hoses on the fire and the fire revives throughout the affected area very nearly to the point it reached when it was first attacked. 

This approximates to 15:42:26 until 15:50:08 in actual time, about 7 minutes 42 seconds.

This coincides with the following notes in the LFB report:

“5.14 At 15:40 hours, LOC received information from a 999 caller, a resident of flat [REDACTED] who was remote from Samuel Garside House at the time of the incident, stating ‘[REDACTED] and [REDACTED] are inside {they} {do} not know their location’. This information was relayed to the incident ground via main scheme radio. WM [REDACTED] committed Firefighters (Ff’s) in BA to carry out a search and rescue for the residents of flat [REDACTED]. Ff’s later confirmed that no persons were found in flat [REDACTED] (Source: Witness information WM [REDACTED] and LOC Brigade mobilisation system – BOSS).”

The notes continue:

“WM [REDACTED] ordered Ff’s in BA with jets to carry out a systematic search of all floors via the communal front door of core 4.”

The LFB further note that at 15:52, a message was sent suggesting that the firefighters were by then clear of the building.

It appears that having largely damped down the fire, and in response to this call, the fire brigade stopped using their hoses (“jets?”) while they entered the still burning building to find the trapped person during this period. They then returned to fight the fire, using the water in their fire engines once again.

The revival of the fire demonstrates why the fire brigade had to put so much water on a fire  long after the flames disappear, leading inevitably to substantial water damage. This water damage drove many other residents from their flats for many months – some still not returned at the time of writing (1/5/20), 11 months later, while work continues to restore the flats.

Fire hydrants

As stated, the LFB  were initially unable to locate the fire hydrants. Multiple residents state that the fire brigade were initially unable to locate fire hydrants, and unable to find working fire hydrants, during that time. They finally found one on Chilworth Place.

I arrived shortly before the fire hoses were rolled out down Chillworth Place. My own photographic evidence from that time tells us that this was after the water was restarted and the flames substantially damped down.

One witness said that there was a fire hydrant adjacent to the building but it could not be used.

It is essential to note that, were it not for the flammable exterior decorative wood on the balconies, which spread the original fire across the balconies, one or at most two fire engines would have been ample to put out the fire in a single flat without need for fire hydrants. This rapid fire spread was perhaps not anticipated in advance by the fire services.

Helicopter

In the video, at 21:12, one can see the helicopter arrive, which set down shortly after, as I arrived and took a picture of it landing and then shortly after took a picture from the end of Chilworth Place, which runs at a right angle towards Samuel Garside House from east to west (and which cannot be seen in this video).

Fire hydrant found, fire finally under control

The video shows that the fire was substantially under control by then. My picture shows no fire hoses running along Chillworth Place and the fire substantially damped down. I watched the hoses set in place down Chilworth Place  with some help from residents,  from a fire hydrant at the far end,  shortly after I arrived.

No doubt there was a real danger that if the hoses had not run down Chilworth the fire would have revived again. Witnesses say this was the first working fire hydrant used.

Nevertheless, this suggests that the water that restarted on the flames at 19:28 was either from a different fire hydrant or from fire engines. In the end it was reported that ten fire engines attended the fire.

Estimate of fire spread

It cannot be accurately stated when the fire started, or when it took hold of the first flat. But we know of a call to the fire brigade by a woman (or her children) in a house directly opposite.  She appears to have witnessed the whole event, including how it started  so its not unreasonable to assume she called the fire service shortly after it started. If this call was made shortly after the first flat took fire,  then we can estimate that the fire took only five minutes or less to spread throughout the entire affected area of the ten flats just as witnesses say.

Fire spread beyond Samuel Garside House

The LFB states

“6.27 The frame of a UPVC double glazed window on a property directly opposite Samuel Garside House (approximately 8 metres away) had discoloured and bubbled slightly, the glazing had also cracked.”

There are wood clad houses facing Samuel Garside House. Had the back of the building caught fire, and spread to the front across the length of the building via the roof, its possible that these houses would have caught fire, and the fire could have spread much more widely.