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Firefighters deserve our gratitude after horrific London blaze

Editor's Viewpoint

It was a scene eerily reminiscent of New York's Twin Towers on 9/11, a tower block in flames with people desperately trying to escape, some throwing children to safety, others trapped and staring death in the face with stoic resignation.

But the inferno which engulfed Grenfell Tower in London's White City was not the result of a terrorist attack but of domestic fire, apparently caused by an exploding fridge which ripped through the building at incredible speed.

Coming at 1am, when many of the estimated 600 residents were asleep, undoubtedly many were already doomed by the time they realised what was happening.

For those who did, and for others who gazed on in horror, the scene was one they are likely never to forget. Desperate residents were shining torches through their windows to let people know they were there amid the clouds of smoke which hung over the area.

Others could be heard screaming for help - some reports suggest that a number of people jumped from their flats rather than stay and be consumed by the blaze. Reports also tell of people resigned to their fate, telephoning friends and families to say goodbye.

Meanwhile, firefighters, on the scene within minutes of the alarm being raised, displayed the heroism which is part and parcel of their daily lives, again reminiscent of the Twin Towers, racing into the blazing building to save those that they could.

What courage it takes to run into the mouth of danger as everyone else flees in the opposite direction.

We often take the emergency services for granted until some horrific incident like this when we get a glimpse of what their job really entails. No words can adequately describe the debt of gratitude we owe to these men and women.

While the number of confirmed deaths rose slowly yesterday, it seems certain that dozens of people have perished, with some sources believing that no-one living on the top three floors of the building can have survived.

The sorrow and horror at what unfolded in such a short period of time will inevitably turn to anger as answers are sought to how this tragedy could have occurred in a building which recently underwent a £10m refurbishment.

Residents had been flagging up their concerns over safety for some time but it appears there were deadly deficiencies in the tower block's fire defences. Survivors reported that there were no functioning sprinkler systems or fire alarms and the only escape route, a stairwell, was blocked.

These are serious charges which will have to be thoroughly investigated, as will the claim that cladding put on the building during the recent refurbishment acted as a conduit for the fire, going up in flames like a Roman candle.

Residents living in similar tower blocks throughout the UK will spend a few sleepless nights until safety checks on their buildings are completed.

To the credit of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, it immediately began an audit of the 32 high rise residences under its control.

There is some concern that sprinkler systems were not installed in the buildings when they were constructed over 50 years ago, but the Executive stresses that all are fire safety compliant.

Giving advice to tenants on what to do in the event of fire is also a welcome move.

In the meantime, the grim task of finding, recovering and identifying the dead in London will continue over the next few days. No effort must be spared on finding out why they died and prosecuting those who are culpable.

Belfast Telegraph

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