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Specialists abseil down the side of Bray Tower

Specialists abseil down the side of Bray Tower to check the cladding, on the Chalcots Estate in north London, Britain, June 27, 2017. (Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters)

London apartment tower fire triggers emergency inspections, evacuations

The deaths of 79 people in a London apartment tower have triggered emergency inspections, evacuations and soul searching among British officials who failed to prevent the tragedy.

But fire-safety experts say governments and builders around the world should take notice, because the fire at Grenfell Tower is just the latest in a string of deadly blazes that demonstrate how building regulations have failed to keep up with changing materials and cuts in inspections and oversight mean problems aren’t spotted until it is too late.

The Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, California, made headlines in December, when 36 people were killed in a warehouse that had been illegally converted into living spaces and a music venue. In September, 33 people died in a fire at a packaging plant in Bangladesh.

“They are a collective example of how, either intentionally or accidentally, the fire prevention and protection system has been broken,” said Jim Pauley, president of the National Fire Protection Association, which develops fire codes used in the U.S. and around the world. “A system that the public believes exists and counts on for their safety — through complacency, bad policy and placing the economics of construction over safety — has let them down.”

The aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire shows that the faults that led to the disaster are not isolated.

The government is scrambling to test panels similar to those used at Grenfell Tower, and has found at least 75 buildings covered in similarly flammable material. Thousands of people have been evacuated from four high-rises in north London after inspectors found fire-safety problems, including faulty fire doors. The city of Birmingham has decided to install sprinklers in all its public housing towers — four years after coroners investigating deadly fires suggested this be done throughout the country. (AP)

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