The battle against the Grenfell Tower inferno has been laid bare in a second-by-second report detailing the challenges faced by firefighters and tragic details of victims’ final moments.
The response of the London Fire Brigade was outlined in a piece titled Operational Response To Grenfell Tower, covering between 12.50am and 2am on June 14.
The fire started in a fourth-floor flat at around 12.50am, eating through a kitchen window before it “travelled up 19 floors in 12 minutes”, the LFB review said.
By 8pm the following evening, more than 140 fire engines had been sent to tackle the west London blaze with up to 720 firefighters.
It was “probably” the largest ever deployment of firefighter breathing apparatus in the UK, deputy assistant commissioner Andrew Bell told the inquiry into the disaster.
Among those trapped in the building was 12-year-old Jessica Urbano Ramirez, who spent 55 minutes on the phone to an emergency operator after taking shelter on the top floor, the report disclosed.
But, in a heartbreaking twist, a parallel search operation had seen firefighter David Badillo journey through choking smoke to her family’s flat on the 20th floor to find her gone.
The report, published by the public inquiry, also revealed how fire crews struggled to maintain access to the building due to a key fob system automatically locking the foyer door.
Many tactics were employed to control the blaze’s spread, including a plan to pour water from the roof to contain the flames.
The review described how the fire was spotted spreading externally early on by watch manager (WM) Michael Dowden, at 1.06am, but he was initially advised by the crew manager (CM) not to spray it with water.
It said: “WM Dowden notes from his position at ground-floor level that the fire has breached the window of flat 16 and he wants to put a covering jet onto it.
“CM (Christopher) Secrett advises him not to at this point due to the risk to BA Team One who are about to enter the flat.”
It was eventually applied at around 1.11am, three minutes before the firefighters entered the kitchen of flat 16, where the blaze had begun.
At 1.12am, the report said: “WM Dowden notes that the external cladding appears to be burning.
“He states it was sparking and spitting in a similar way to magnesium and was making me feel uncomfortable.”
Firefighters Desmond Murphy and Charles Cornelius were simultaneously directing the jet stream towards the north-east corner of the tower.
Mr Cornelius said: “The jet was having no impact on fire suppression as the fire was spreading behind the panelling and it was difficult to direct a flow of water on to the fire.”
The highly flammable polyethylene core of the cladding panels was believed to have been fuelling the blaze’s spread.
At 1.25am, the first eventual victim, Denis Murphy, rang 999 from flat 111 on the 14th floor.
Barely half an hour later, at 1.53am, a message is sent between crews claiming Mr Murphy “is in the bathroom with smoke entering the room and he’s having difficulty breathing”, according to the report.
CCTV included in the publication shows the lift opening at ground level at 1.26am, releasing a cloud of thick black smoke from the top of the car.
At around this time, Mr Badillo met the sister of Jessica at Grenfell Tower’s main entrance and was handed the keys to their flat on the 20th floor.
“In his statement Firefighter Badillo states Ms Urbano tells him that her sister Jessica is still in their flat on the 20th floor and he tells her he will go and get her,” the report said.
His initial attempt to travel up the building without breathing apparatus was thwarted when the lift opens on the 15th floor and black smoke engulfs him.
Smoke was also now leaking into the stairwell, as a fire hose on the fifth floor had propped the lift lobby door open.
At 1.29am, the covering jet was determined to be having “no effect on suppressing the fire”, while the main entrance door “hampers” entry into the building throughout, forcing Mr Badillo at one point to leave his helmet propping it open.
Dozens were now trapped inside, many in the 23rd floor flat of Raymond “Moses” Bernard with Jessica.
Calls poured in to the LFB control room virtually every minute, with operators staying on the line to the Gomes family on the 21st floor for nearly an hour.
An apparent new approach is considered at 1.26am, the report said, when the watch manager instructs the crew manager “to get a line operations system working from the roof to allow water to be put on the fire from above”.
The report continued: “He states he wants a drencher-type system to put the fire out from the outside.”
At 1.43am, one firefighter emerges with a helmet “completely blackened indicating severe heat and smoke within the area of the building they had been in”.
Throughout the hour firefighters were simultaneously advising some residents to evacuate and others to remain, in line with the building’s stay-put policy.
A team banged on sixth floor flats at 1.44am ordering them to leave, it was reported, but just before 2pm others on the ninth floor were advised to stay inside as their flat was unaffected by smoke.
Meanwhile, on the 20th floor, Mr Badillo and his colleague arrived to look for Jessica at 1.48am.
“They locate flat 176 and the door is open.
“Firefighter Badillo and CM Secrett search the flat twice in an effort to locate Jessica Urbano.
“They don’t find anyone and they surmise that as the door was open she may have already left,” the report said.
A major incident was declared just after 2am, with a full evacuation eventually ordered at 2.47am.
Seventy-one people, including Jessica, died that night.
Firefighters are due to begin giving evidence at the inquiry next week.