London police said at least 12 people died in a massive fire that raced through a high-rise apartment building in west London early Wednesday. Flames shot from windows all the way up the side of the 24-story Grenfell Tower in North Kensington as firefighters battled the blaze, and a plume of smoke could be seen for several miles. At least 74 people were injured in the blaze. The cause of the fire was not immediately known. Residents said it appeared to start in an apartment on a lower floor and spread upward quickly. People at the scene spoke of being unable to reach friends and family who had been inside. Others said they could see people inside using flashlights and mobile phones to try to signal for help from higher floors. “The fire engine couldn’t get to the building. It’s always been like that… It’s crazy,” said Chris, who did not give his last name. Horrific scenes were reported at the site. Sky News reported that one resident dropped a baby from the ninth or 10th floor of the burning building, which was caught by a member of the public. “I live near. You could see everything. This shouldn’t happen. People throwing babies out the window, what’s that all about? I was in tears this morning. I’m a big man. I was in tears. And this shouldn’t happen,” said Chris.
Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton called it an “unprecedented incident” unlike anything she had seen in her 29-year career as a firefighter. She said there were “a number” of fatalities. The blaze started around 1 a.m. London time, and smoke was still pouring from the building hours later. Nassima Boutrig, who lives opposite the building, said she was awakened by sirens and smoke so thick that it filled her home as well. “We saw the people screaming,” she said. “A lot of people said ‘Help, help, help.’ The fire brigade could only help downstairs. It was fire up, up, up. They couldn’t stop the fire.” Ambulances and fire trucks filled the streets around the building, which is located in a diverse, working class area of London. People who live nearby were evacuated, some carrying pets in their arms as they left. Volunteers handed out bottled water. Helicopters hovered overhead and smoke hung over the scene. Exhausted firefighters sprawled on the pavement just inside the police cordon, drinking water from plastic bottles. The London Fire Brigade said 45 fire engines and 200 firefighters were called to the scene. Assistant Fire Commissioner Dan Daly said it was a large and very serious incident. “Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus are working extremely hard in very difficult conditions to tackle this fire,” he said in a post on the brigade’s Facebook page. George Clarke told Radio 5 Live that he was covered in ash even though he was 100 meters (yards) from the scene.He said he saw people waving flashlights from the top levels of the building and saw rescuers “doing an incredible job” trying to get people out.—AFP