Fire disasters such as Grenfell are rare, and must remain so

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The death toll in the Grenfell tower disaster rose beyond 30 yesterday and when added to the number of missing people, the final total is likely to be higher, at 50 or more.

There seems to be a diminishing fear that the number of dead is in the high hundreds. as seemed possible from the potential number of people in the building when the fire took hold, and from the grim footage that still makes it seem remarkable that scores of people did live.

Let us hope it is indeed the case that the great bulk of people in the tower survived the fire. Even so, the combined number of dead and missing is appalling.

The inferno will be the subject of a public inquiry. Similar inquiries into past tragedies at football games or on railways or planes or boats have led to recommendations that made their recurrence much less likely. Sports stadiums in Britain, for example, are far safer now than they were in the 1980s.

The Grenfell disaster brings together a number of pressing issues in Britain. The wealth divide, the housing shortage in the Southeast of England, and fire safety standards.

It is worth remembering that hundreds of thousands of people across the UK live in high blocks of flats, and a blaze like this is exceedingly rare. Even so, there will be key lessons to learn from Grenfell, such as the role of cladding in the fire.

One thing is already known however: it is easy for us all to criticise ‘red tape’ and ‘excessive regulation’ and ‘health and safety,’ and this even played a role in the EU referendum. But there is usually good reason for safety regulations.

Among advances in many fields brought about by tight regulation, buildings are far safer from fires than 50 years ago, and motorists have become far safer in their cars over that time too.

The Queen yesterday, aged 91, again reassured victims at a time of national trauma. Theresa May’s initial failure to meet victims, perhaps out of a fear of being shouted at, was her latest mis-step. Jeremy Corbyn displayed humanity at the scene.

With luck the horrendous death toll might not rise too much further. Meanwhile, the effort to learn the lessons of this disaster is already under way.