Residents have said they did not hear an emergency alarm as a blaze tore through their east London block bearing the same cladding that was used on Grenfell Tower.
London Fire Brigade (LFB) said two adults had been taken to hospital after suffering the effects of smoke inhalation and a further 38 adults and four children were treated at the scene after the fire ripped through the 19-storey New Providence Wharf development, near Canary Wharf, on Friday morning.
Approximately 22% of the building’s facade features aluminium composite material polyethylene (ACM PE) cladding panels, which were found to be a key factor in the 2017 Grenfell fire.
However, building developer Ballymore said the cladding did not combust and “played no part” in causing the fire.
Dozens of evacuated residents could be heard venting their frustrations at not being able to retrieve their possessions from inside the building on Friday afternoon.
One man, wrapped in a blanket, asked a firefighter “Can we have a jacket?”.
A female resident tearfully shouted: “This is not ok, this (cladding) should have been sorted years ago.”
Other residents congregated in a nearby building as fire crews continued to work on securing the block.
Some were in pyjamas or wrapped in blankets while others spoke of having to brush their teeth using a water bottle.
Dozens could be seen carrying their belongings.
A large police presence was in the area, with surrounding roads and pavements taped off.
One resident, named James, 33, told the PA news agency: “I didn’t know at first, when I opened my window this morning I could see and smell the smoke, it was thick black smoke, even at the side of the building, where I live.
“In that kind of situation you think, run, instantly, I’m on my own in this flat so I had no one to get, I was out of there really quickly.
“But what I don’t get is that there was no alarm, no alert, had I not opened my window I might not have clocked it.
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen, or how my flat looks, but I know for sure some people are going to be very unhappy and devastated when they see the damage to their flat.”
Another resident said: “We evacuated the building after being told by some neighbours there was a fire, we’re on the other end of the building and we didn’t have a clue what was happening, we didn’t hear an alarm.”
Pictures and videos on social media show part of the building engulfed in flames, with thick grey smoke pouring out of the block, several stories high.
One resident posted on Instagram: “When your building has the same cladding as Grenfell Tower. Oh my god.”
Ballymore has said although it expects “most residents” to return to their homes by Friday evening, it is providing accommodation in a nearby hotel for those who require it.
Its latest statement read: “We understand how difficult and distressing today has been for our residents and we are grateful for the patience they have demonstrated. Our response team on the ground will continue to support them in any way we can.
“The cause of the fire has yet to be determined and we continue to work closely with the London Fire Brigade during their investigations. “We can however confirm that the ACM cladding on the building did not combust and played no part in causing or facilitating the fire.
“Enabling works to remove the ACM cladding have been underway for two weeks prior to today’s incident. The works will recommence as soon as possible.”
Survivors’ and relatives’ group Grenfell United said it was “horrified” by the incident.
Its statement read: “When will the Government take this scandal seriously? Enough is enough.
“The Government promised to remove dangerous cladding by June 2020 – it has completely failed its own target and every day that goes by lives are at risk. Today more people have lost their homes in another terrifying fire.
“The Government needs to treat this as an emergency and stop stonewalling residents who are raising concerns. No more games, no more excuses.”
LFB said parts of the eighth, ninth and 10th floors were alight on the building, adding that it had received 13 calls to the fire.
It added: “The brigade was called at 0855. Fire crews from Poplar, Millwall, Shadwell, Plaistow, Whitechapel and surrounding fire stations are at the scene.
“The cause of the fire is not known at this stage.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, said: “We thank the emergency services for their work to extinguish the fire in New Providence Wharf.
“As we await their report on the cause of the fire it is too early speculate, but we are working closely with the London Fire Brigade.
“The building has received £8m government funding to remove unsafe ACM cladding – this work was set to take place on Monday and we have been in regular contact with Ballymore over the last two years to make progress, including publicly naming Landor, their subsidiary, as one of the companies that has consistently failed to take action.
“Ministers have met Ballymore repeatedly to urge action.”
The fire comes just days after the introduction of the Government’s post-Grenfell fire safety regulations, which campaigners argue could leave leaseholders paying tens of thousands of pounds to remove cladding on their buildings.
Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack said: “It is extremely alarming to see another high-rise building in the heart of London light up in flames.
“It should shame this Government that four years on from Grenfell, there are people across the country living in buildings wrapped in flammable cladding.
“Time and time again we’ve warned that another Grenfell could be just around the corner unless they prioritise making people’s homes safe.
“The pace of removing flammable cladding has been glacial and it’s putting people’s lives at risk. The Government must intervene and take quick and decisive action to end our building safety crisis once and for all.”