Grenfell kitchen fire took just over 10 minutes to spread outside, inquiry told

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A small kitchen fire took just over 10 minutes to spread to the outside of Grenfell Tower, compromising the building’s so-called “stay put” safety policy, an expert has said.

Professor Jose Torero said the blaze, which broke out in a fourth floor-flat, breached the uPVC window fittings and ignited one of the flammable components of the external cladding.

In a report prepared for a public inquiry into last year’s June 14 disaster, which killed 72 people, he said this probably happened before 1.05am – about 11 minutes after the start of the fire and before firefighters had entered flat 16 to tackle it.

A video compilation played at the hearing in central London showed the flames then spread up the east side of the building.

“Analysis indicates that a relatively minor, localised fire, compromised the uPVC window fittings and ignited one of the flammable components of the cladding by direct flame/plume impingement,” Prof Torero wrote.

“From this point forward, the stay-put strategy was compromised and evacuation of occupants was an option to consider.”

The fire safety expert said such a kitchen fire was an “inevitable and perfectly foreseeable event” in a high-rise residential building such as Grenfell, but should have been contained.

“Fires are common events, but fires that create significant damage are rare events,” he said, explaining how buildings are designed with layers of safety.

“The building is required to respond and deliver… so that a fire of this nature does not progress beyond a kitchen.”

Summarising his evidence, counsel for the inquiry Kate Grange QC said: “In the event of any fire starting near a window at Grenfell Tower, there was disproportionately high probability of fire spread to the cladding system?”

“Absolutely,” said Prof Torero, who is John L. Bryan chair at the Department of Fire Protection Engineering and the director of the Centre for Disaster Resilience at the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Maryland, in the US.

He said there was evidence the building’s compartmentation system had failed by 1.05am, “clearly failed” by 1.08am, and that by 1.11am it would have been obvious to firefighters that something was burning on the outside of the building.

Once compartmentation is breached, this “invalidates the stay-put policy”, Prof Torero explained.

“Would you agree that once compartmentation is breached, evacuation is necessary to secure the fire safety of those in the building?”

“Yes,” said Prof Torero.

Ms Grange continued: “And is it the only viable option at that point?”

The witness said: “Yes.”

However, the London Fire Brigade did not implement a change in its stay-put advice until 2.47am.

Prof Torero said that “fire spread up the facade was inevitable once the fire was established on the outside of the facade system” and that vertical fire spread from the fourth floor to the roof within 12 to 15 minutes from the establishment of flames on the facade.

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