Grenfell Tower, a 24-story housing building in London, England, erupted in flames on June 14, 2017. Some residents escaped, but many others were trapped inside. Emergency crews arrived quickly and rescued 65 people, but another 79 died in the tragedy which has now been named Britain’s deadliest fire in more than a century.
Subsequent investigations revealed that not only were flammable materials in the building’s façade that helped spread the blaze, but a faulty appliance was to blame for starting the fire in the first place.
Whirlpool Hotpoint Freezer/Fridge Unit Blamed for Starting Fire
According to CNN News, authorities have identified an allegedly defective Hotpoint freezer/fridge unit as the source of the fire. Manufactured by Indesit, which is a subsidiary of Whirlpool, the device allegedly sparked the blaze which then swept through the building’s flammable “cladding”—a material wrapped around the outside of a building to improve appearance and energy efficiency.
Whirlpool has now asked consumers who own the same model of Hotpoint unit (model numbers FF175BP or FF175BG) to contact them at their customer hotline at 0800 316 3826, or visit their website at https://www.hotpointservice.co.uk/fridgefreezer to provide more details about the product. They have not yet recalled the device, but they are working with authorities to find out more about what happened. Whirlpool indicated that about 65,000 units with these model numbers were manufactured between March 2006 and July 2009.
Meanwhile, police are considering manslaughter charges as part of their investigation and have seized a number of materials and documents related to the incident.
Flammable Cladding Intensifies the Fire
Once the Hotpoint unit started the blaze, the flames quickly spread, making such fast progress that firefighters were surprised and neighbors, shocked. The London fire commissioner stated that he had never seen “such a phenomenal fire, a building engulfed top to bottom in flames,” according to the New York Times.
The Grenfell Tower was built in 1974, but went through a refurbishment in 2016. The work at that time included adding new exterior cladding, along with replacement windows and a communal heating system. The cladding that was used is now being examined as a possible reason why the fire spread so fast. The outer part is made up of two sheets of aluminum. The foam interior, made up of polyethylene, is less fireproof than other alternatives the builders might have used.
In trying to determine how the fire occurred, investigators have examined the evidence. They found that in that building, refrigerators are typically positioned against an exterior wall—just a few inches from the newly installed cladding that. The current theory is that when the Hotpoint started burning on the fourth floor, the fire ignited the cladding and then rushed up the side of the building. The fact that there was a gap between the cladding and the foam insulation underneath it is also suspected as having intensified the fire, with the air gap acting as a chimney and pulling the flames up.
According to The Independent, the United Kingdom’s insurance industry had issued a warning about flammable external surfaces on high-rise buildings just a month before the fire. Now, as a result of emergency reviews, the Department for Communities and Local Government has reported that every tower that has undergone emergency fire tests has so far failed those tests.
On June 26, 2017, the firm that supplied the panels used in the cladding (Arconic) stopped global sales of those panels for high-rise blocks.
American building codes don’t allow flammable cladding in high-rise buildings. They also require automatic sprinkler systems and fire alarms—both of which were lacking in the Grenfell Tower.