To: Alok Sharma, Housing Minister
Re: Grenfell Tower (GT) Fire

Dear Minister

In the House of Commons you said that it was time to listen to wideranging views.  I therefore presume that it would not be out of order to present mine.  I am a physics graduate with some research experience, now retired, with neither commercial interests nor political alegiance, but great concern about the effects that the fire on so many people.

In this email I consider the immediate problems only.  The objectives are: 1. to reduce the risk to residents continuing to live in similar tower blocks, 2. to reduce the need for blocks to be emptied, with great inconvenience and not completely without danger.

I believe I can explain completely (from what has appeared and the media and the laws of physics) how such a small electrical fire could have such tragic consequences (and can provide an account if you are interested).  I believe that the Government should be in a position to draw up an Immediate Action List for residents remaining in similar blocks.

Here are my suggested six points for consideration..
  1. People are a major factor in fire safety.  Need for simple fire safety education.  People who are part of a coherent group will be much safer than individuals on their own.
  2. Communication inward and outward is of utmost importance.  People who are informed are less likely to panic than those who are kept in the dark.  Important that the fire brigade have as good information as possible regarding people's location and factors such as special needs.
  3. People need clear instructions - close all windows, close all doors, go to an arranged assembly point. In the case of smoke in the corridor, stay inside, put a wet mattress against the door.  Call 999. Residents  can also help by reporting obvious faults such as fire doors not closing properly.
  4. Evacuation needs to be planned and phased to avoid congestion.  Fire drills should be considered.  Best in groups with one member in constant 999 contact. Could some flats be left unlocked in case a stranded group needs to take shelter? In buildings with dangerous cladding, evacuation should begin early.
  5. In GT much of the fire appears to have occurred under the cladding and would therefore not be visible.  In any callout to a tower block a constant infrared inspection of the exterior should be a routine part of the operation.
  6. Some residents were treated for cyanide poisoning - deadly in any fire, more so in an enclosed building with a lot of people.  One likely source is furniture, possibly bought second hand by people on a tight budget.  Need for inspection.  A free swap for a similar item which meets current standards could help cooperation.

Fire safety depends on a range of factors.  Weaknesses in one respect can be largely compensated by strength elsewhere.
I hope this helps.  At a later stage other issues such as the cladding will need attending to.  Here again, I believe that the range of sensible choices is wider than that presented in the media.

Best wishes

Eddy Hunt

PS. Here is my version of what could have been the sequence of events:

Possible Sequence of Events in Grenfell Tower Tragedy

  1. An electrical device catches fire on a lower floor flat.  Combustible material nearby begins to burn, causing a significant amount of smoke.
  2. Because of the smoke, the resident opens the window to get some fresh air.  The wind blows fresh air into the flat and the flames begin to intensify.
  3. The resident now senses danger.  Opens the door, begins to descend the stairs.  The door is left open.
  4. There is now a convection air current up the stairs, through the flat and out the window.   The fire intensifies and moves toward the window.
  5. Flames are coming out the window.  The combustible insulation catches fire.  Smoke starts rising in the gap between the aluminium and the and the bare wall.
  6. The fire brigade arrive.  They go to the flat and put out the fire.  There is now no visible sign of fire, but the insulation continues to burn and the fire is spreading upward from the window.
  7. The space between the aluminium cladding and the insulation acts like a chimney.  The fire continues to spread upward behind the aluminium.  The convection airflow becomes stronger and the fire becomes more intense.
  8. At some point the aluminium begins to melt.  Behind it is the polymer layer of the composite, which catches fire.  At this stage a small amount of smoke appears and the fire brigade realise that the situation is much more serious than initially suspected.
  9. The outer layer of the aluminium begins to melt.  There are now holes in the cladding.  The convection currents become much stronger and the fire spreads quickly along the wall, mainly upward.
  10. When the fire reaches the maximum height of the ladders the fire brigade can no longer get water to the fire.  The fire is now intense and subject the window panes to thermal stress.  The windows begin to break spontaneously.
  11. There are now mechanisms for the fire to spread in all directions.  There are now external convection currents moving the flames upward even more vigorously.  Winds will blow the flames sideways.  Heat can be conducted up, down and sideways by the aluminium. The wind will now make the flames spread into the flats through the broken windows.
  12. Bits of insulation are now burning and being carried upward by the convection current, increasing the rate of spread of the fire upward.  Heavier components and possibly the aluminium itself catch fire and fall downward under gravity.
  13. The fire now reaches the stairwell, which begins to act like a chimney.  It now becomes impossible for those left on the upper floors to escape.
  14. The fire now continues until it runs out of fuel.  Almost everything is left burnt to a crisp.

ENDS