The five fires over five decades that could have saved the lives of the residents of Grenfell Tower.

Source: ‘It’s crazy. Why has it happened again?’

On 14 June 2017, televisions across the country showed a west London tower block burn. For some, this was history repeating itself – as if five similar fires had simply not been important enough to prevent the deaths of 72 people in Grenfell Tower.

Catherine Hickman was on the phone when she died. It wasn’t a panicked call or an attempt to have some last words with a loved one.

As a BBC Two documentary recounts, she had been speaking to a 999 operator for 40 minutes, remaining calm and following the advice to “stay put” in her tower block flat.

As smoke surrounded her, she stayed put. As flames came through the floorboards, she stayed put. At 16:30, she told the operator: “It’s orange, it’s orange everywhere” before saying she was “getting really hot in here”.

Believing to the last that she was in the safest place, she carried on talking to the operator – until she stopped.

“Hello Catherine.

“Hello Catherine. Can you make any noise so I know that you’re listening to me?

“Catherine, can you make any noise?

“Can you bang your phone or anything?

“Catherine, are you there?

“I think that’s the phone gone [CALL ENDS]

Miss Hickman was not a resident of Grenfell Tower. The fire in which she and five others died happened in July 2009, at 12-storey Lakanal House in Camberwell, south London. But that same “stay put” advice was given to Grenfell residents eight years later. Many of those who did never made it out alive.

Catherine HickmanImage copyrightHICKMAN FAMILY
Image captionCatherine Hickman, a dressmaker, grew up on a farm with two sisters
Fire at Lakanal HouseImage copyrightFBU
Image captionMiss Hickman was one of six people who died in the Lakanal House fire after obeying instructions to stay in their flats

Catherine, a 31-year-old dressmaker, had grown up on a farm in Hampshire with her two sisters, Liz and Sophie. The three were close as children and remained so as adults. Her sisters could not understand why Catherine hadn’t left the building.

After the fire, they visited Catherine’s home and saw the bottom half of the rooms completely burned out. They could see her sewing machine, melted. Her dressmaking patterns were scorched, but somehow hadn’t been entirely consumed by the blaze.

It wasn’t until two weeks later Liz and Sophie learned that Catherine had not simply fallen asleep on the sofa, as they had hoped. She had been conscious and was waiting to be saved. For the two surviving sisters, it was a devastating revelation.

The “stay put” instruction is not inherently unsafe – if flats are properly hermetically sealed and fire-retardant. Guidelines state that an apartment in a tower block should withstand a blaze for an hour, giving enough time for inhabitants to be rescued.

See full article here

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