Grenfell Tower cladding ‘created multiple catastrophic fire-spread routes’

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Grenfell Tower was wrapped in a cladding system that did not comply with building regulations and was incorrectly installed, creating “multiple catastrophic fire-spread routes”, a report found.

Dr Barbara Lane, an expert commissioned by the Grenfell Tower inquiry, delivered an excoriating assessment of the refurbishment which finished a year before the fire.

The rainscreen cladding put on the building used material that did not meet fire safety standards, while the system as a whole was not capable of effectively preventing the inferno spreading.

Windows in individual flats had no fire barriers encasing them and these openings were surrounded by combustible material, the expert found.

Such a shortcoming “increased the likelihood of that fire breaking into the large cavities contained within the cladding system” and provided “no means to control the spread of fire and smoke”.

The tower before and after refurbishment
The tower before (left) and after refurbishment (Grenfell Tower Inquiry/PA)

There was also no evidence they had ever been tested for performance in the cladding system.

Any fire which started near a window therefore had a “disproportionately high probability” of spreading into the rainscreen cladding, Dr Lane concluded.

The softened uPVC finish revealing the cavity and combustible insulation board
The softened uPVC finish revealing the cavity and combustible insulation board in the living room of flat 16 where the fire started in the kitchen (Grenfell Tower Inquiry/PA)

The cladding itself – Reynobond 55PE – contributed to the “most rapid” of the fire spread, the report said.

Dr Lane said: “The assembly – taken together with the insulation material on the existing external wall, the missing and defective cavity barriers – became part of a successful combustion process.”

Five pathways were created through which a fire could spread, meaning each flat was “no longer” a fire-safe box, instead the whole building was at risk.

A bedroom in flat 16
A bedroom – windows did not have fire barriers encasing them (Grenfell Tower Inquiry/PA)

This required smoke-control in multiple lobbies, firefighting efforts on multiple floors and on the exterior of the building, the need for a change of the evacuation strategy and the need for disabled residents to self-evacuate “for which no facilities were provided within the building”.

The scale of the cladding’s shortcomings never appears to have been grasped by any of the key bodies linked to the refurbishment.

Dr Lane wrote: “I have found no evidence yet that any member of the design team or the construction ascertained the fire performance of the rainscreen cladding system materials, nor understood how the assembly performed in fire.

“I have found no evidence that Building Control were either informed or understood how the assembly would perform in a fire.

“Further I have found no evidence that the (Tenant Management Organisation) risk assessment recorded the fire performance of the rainscreen cladding system, nor have I found evidence that the LFB risk assessment recorded the fire performance of the rainscreen cladding.”

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