Lessons from the Grenfell disaster and the Dunmurry fire

Morning View
Morning View

Six months after the Grenfell tower disaster, there is now a definitive death toll for the tragedy.

A total of 70 people died (71 if a stillborn baby is counted) when a fire engulfed the tower block.

It was horrifying to watch the footage on television, and to think of the people trapped on the upper levels.

For days afterwards, there was speculation that the death toll might be in measured in the hundreds. It easily could have been that high, given the potential number of people in the 24-storey building at the time of the blaze. The death toll is much lower than it might have been but still awful.

The ramifications of the disaster will be far-reaching once the investigations are complete, and they will have consequences for whether any more high rise flats are built in the UK again.

Tower blocks once looked like a possible solution to the housing shortage in the southeast of England, because they can facilitate high density accommodation in limited sites. Now planners will be hesitant to authorise residential accommodation higher than can be reached by the tallest fire ladders.

Police say 223 people escaped the inferno, meaning that three out of four people in Grenfell at the time survived. The large number of escapees will also have ramifications: who now will listen to advice to stay inside a flat in a burning building?

As if Grenfell wasn’t enough of a warning, the fire at a block in Dunmurry has caused fresh anxiety.

It is reassuring to hear the fire service say that the system of multiple alarms, both inside and outside flats, worked well.

But residents say they did not all go off. This illustrates the importance of vigilant fire alarm testing.

The DUP leader and former first minister Arlene Foster did the right thing by visiting the residents, who would be distressed and full of questions in such circumstances even if all the alarms had activated.

No-one was injured in Dunmurry, but even so it puts a fresh question mark over the future of tower block accommodation here in Northern Ireland, adding to the UK-wide doubts.