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Fire Engulfs 27-Story Apartment Tower in London. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired June 14, 2017 - 00:00   ET


[23:59:52] OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And it's the worst fear that people were trapped inside, that perhaps -- perhaps and it's impossible to know from where I stand -- perhaps there is some sort of safe haven inside that wasn't touched by the fire.

But again, all I see from this vantage point in the outside of the building that looks, only a little bit of it, but that looks normal, that looks unlike the rest of the building which is a deep dark brown, in many places all of the windows missing, and fire easily visible behind and inside those apartments.

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: We can only hope. Oren Liebermann -- bringing us up to date on the situation there in London where it is 5:00 in the morning following this breaking news out of the United Kingdom, that massive fire we've been watching in West London, completely engulfed in flames there.

It is 27 stories high. We do not know at this point what the cause was. It is too early and we do not know how many people were evacuated.

I want to hand over now to my colleagues in Los Angeles -- Amara Walker and John Vause.

AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Thank you -- Rosemary. We'll pick up the continuing coverage from here?

Again I'm Amara Walker in Los Angeles.


We are covering that breaking news out of the U.K. A massive fire completely engulfing a 27-story apartment building in West London.

Police say they're evacuating a block of flats in Lancaster West Estate in North Kensington.

WALKER: About 200 firefighters are battling this right now. Police say two people are being treated for smoke inhalation. And they are waiting for updates on any further injuries. But witnesses say they've seen people jumping from the building.

The fire broke out before day break when most people would have still been in bed. There is no word yet on what caused this fire.

Now earlier CNN spoke to eye witness Goran Karimi and he told us he saw people jumping from that burning building.


GORAN KARIMI, EYEWITNESS: The fire started in one side of the building. And then actually it spread very quickly. Within you know half an hour the side of -- it was just on fire. Now it has spread to the whole building. It's like it's just burning, just one ball of fire.

CHURCH: Now, at one point --

KARIMI: There is a lot of people in there.

CHURCH: Right. So how many people do you think are in there?

KARIMI: It's -- well, there are 124, 125 flats. So it could be a thousand people in there. And there are people actually jumping from windows. There are people shouting for help. It's really serious. I mean because it was late I'm guessing there was a lot of people sleeping. So basically this is a situation now.


VAUSE: One witness there saying that this building, 120 flats which means in his opinion it could be as many as a thousand people in that building at the time when the fire began.

One of the problems, of course, is that this is a 27-story tall building which is about 320 feet tall about 100 meters tall which presents a lot of challenges for firefighters, not least of all is evacuation.

The firefighters can only fight a blaze like this from inside the building once they get to a certain height so they need to get inside. But in a building which was constructed in the 1970s like this one the only way up will be the stairwells which will be the same route that many people will be using to try and escape the flames.

Oren Liebermann is on the scene. He joins us now live. So Oren -- it does appear, at least from what we can see, that for the most part, this building is now simply smoldering. And the worst of the fire appears to have either extinguished itself or has been put out by -- by the fire brigade.

LIEBERMANN: I apologize. Somebody is screaming right next to me so it's a little difficult to hear that. but the first thing I'm going to do here is step out of the way so you can see the amount of smoke pouring out of the building here. I'll step out of the way and we'll zoom.

And this is the view we've had here for the last few hours now. The flames have definitely dissipated since I've been here -- I was here for the last 90 minutes to two hours.

Just a short while ago you can see flames pouring out of every single one of those windows. Many of those window, of course, missing and those flames weren't pouring out you could see into the home, you could see into the apartment and the flames and the smoke on the inside.

The smoke itself has dissipated giving us a view of the building itself. And there you can see the outside of the building destroyed on the outside -- a deep, dark brown, bordering on black in some places from what has poured through the building.

A vehicle is in our way at this point. We'll give you a better view in just a moment here as a few vehicles go by. But is what we've seen throughout the morning, a deep dark brown bordering on black on the outside of the building. And that is the consequence of the extent of these flames.

We have a view of about the top half the building. It seems that firefighters have not yet been trying to -- have not yet been able to get to the top floors of the building, have not made an impact there. The flames though have dissipated, perhaps an indication that everything inside that was combustible has largely burned.

[00:05:03] There is one small area and it's difficult to see from our perspective from exactly where we're standing here. But there is one small area that at least on the outside looks untouched by the flames.

How big that is and what it looks like on the inside remains a major question here and one that we'll try to get an answer to but could that possibly be a safe haven if the worst has happened? If people weren't able to get out?

Now that we have a better view, I'll step out of the way once again and give you a view of the building. Again I can see some windows with flames still pouring out but many windows the flames have died down. The flames have reduced. But smoke still very much thick, dark black smoke still pouring out of very much of this building.

Firefighters have many hours of work ahead of them. This will obviously be a very long day for them. We know at the very least 200 firefighters, 40 fire trucks -- and that number has gone up as we've seen more arrive since I've been here as well as ambulances. And police have kept a large area cordoned off here as they try work here to make whatever dent they can in this fire pouring out of the building here in the early morning hours.

WALKER: Yes. Oren -- it sounds like it's a bit chaotic there around you. We can hear people yelling. If you can describe just what's happening there, what you're also seeing there on the ground.

LIEBERMANN: Well, it seems that those being evacuated and those have been evacuated from the building are being evacuated in a different direction. I'm standing mostly near neighbors, mostly near people who have come out in the early morning hours to stare in stunned silence. Many have taken pictures with their phones just to see this building.

This building almost stands as a lone figure, nearly 30 stories high. So it's easy to see from nearly every vantage point. Many of the buildings where I'm standing, and I would say I'm about a quarter of mile away from the building, many of the building near me are three or four stories which makes it easy to see the flames pouring out of the building.

You saw just a moment ago there, that was another fire truck, another fire vehicle heading inside with more firefighters. We've seen that sort of movement throughout the day. Firefighters arriving as well as ambulances going in and out and more police trying to keep the area cordoned off so they have as much working room as possible and as much area as possible with as little interruption to try to make some sort of impact here.

Only next will the questions about what started this fire and where did it start and how did it start -- only next will those start to be asked. At this point the priority is putting the fire out and trying to get inside if possible if the building is structurally sound and then figuring out what started it and can it be prevented again.

VAUSE: Oren, while we have you there -- and we can look at that wide shot of the building with all the smoke billowing out that's what's known as the stack effect. It's basically the result of a temperature differential from the inside and the outside of the building.

This can actually cause huge problems inside the building. It transfers heat. It's one of the reasons why fighting these blazes in a high rise is so difficult for the firefighters as they try to bring this under control.

But Oren -- what we also want to know too about is the evacuations because getting out of the building when the blaze is at its worst, obviously incredibly difficult for all the people inside. What we do know is that there's 20 ambulances on scene, some people have made it out. And of course, there is concern that there are still those who are trapped inside that building.

LIEBERMANN: That is very much the worst fear. We have seen -- again as I pointed out one little area where the flames don't seem to have touched the outside but that doesn't mean the inside was safe. If everyone's worst fear is true, if not everyone was able to get out, was there a safe place inside. Looking at the outside it's very difficult to believe.

But --


LIEBERMANN: I apologize for that. We're getting interrupted here by neighbors standing in the area. But was there an area inside where people could get to safety? That is a question.

We don't have an updated number on evacuations. That would require firefighters and emergency services to know how many people were inside and then how many people were able to get out. It seems those who were evacuated were evacuated in a different direction, not towards us.

I'll step out of the way here and you one more look at the fire here in the early morning hours. Again firefighters have a long day ahead of them. We haven't gotten too much information on how many people were inside. That's something we'll look to get to you as soon as possible as emergency services and as the London fire brigade is able to get that information and put it occupy.

A little bit of the building there, a little burned bit falling off of one of the places where we see fire pouring out of the window -- the fire still very intense in some spots.

And I will say one other thing that may be difficult to see from the angle of the camera. Firefighters angling the fire hose at what looks like the top half of the building now just able to reach the top half of the building and try to get some of the flames there die down, trying to get some of the flame there out and try to make some sort of progress here on this fire that's been raging since the early morning hours -- John.

VAUSE: Oren -- please stay with us.

[00:09:51] One of the questions of course with this building which apparently was constructed in the 1970s, were there in fact any -- was there a sprinkler system inside the building because that is what the firefighters always tell is you one of the best ways of actually preventing or containing a blaze inside a high rise like this.

WALKER: Yes. And also you were talking about just this fight against these flames that we're still seeing shooting out of the windows. We're also seeing a few pieces of the building kind of falling off the sides of the building there -- Oren.

Just tell us more about how firefighters are fighting the flames. We know that more than 200 firefighters are there on scene. What exactly are they doing?

LIEBERMANN: So we don't have a great view of the bottom of the building and that's where firefighters would have started and where most of their work is concentrated at this point.

My colleague though Salma Abdelazis, who's on a different side of the building has a better view and she says it looks like they've made progress on the bottom of the building. That's where they would have started.

Just a short while ago we pointed out that I was able to see for the first time a fire hose angled up for the first time that I could see at least from my perspective angling towards the top half of the building and trying to get out some of the flames there. But it still is a monumental task that firefighters have in front of them.

As for questions about emergency procedures and what safety measures were in place in this building -- whether sprinklers, smoke detectors, fire detectors, carbon monoxide detectors -- those are all questions we'd like to have answers to but don't yet.

1970s is a fairly recent period for a building here in London. So the building may have had some of that but we don't have definitive answers there. The building was also going through refurbishment as they try to get -- as they try to update this building built some 40 years ago. Were there any safety measures included in that refurbishment -- again questions we have but don't know the answers to yet.

VAUSE: Ok. Oren -- please, obviously stay with us as we continue to follow the situation there on the ground.

We also want to hear from another witness. His name is Tim Downin. He told us he saw people inside that burning building and they were screaming for help.


TIM DOWNIN, EYEWITNESS: We heard people screaming. I heard people shouting. I heard -- saw people in the upper windows flashing iPhone lights and phone lights trying to get attention. That was on the other side of the building when the fire first started. It wasn't even flames at that time.

How on earth they got down I just hope -- really, really hope that they actually managed to get these people out. Yes, I mean the speed at which this has taken.


DOWNIN: I've never seen anything quite like it.

CHURCH: We share your hope. And have you been able to witness the start of this fire people being evacuated from the building?

DOWNIN: Yes, yes, we saw a lot of people coming out. We were urged to get coats and shoes because most of these people were coming out in their pajamas, which is kind of just what they had on. Most had just woken up. So we were taking coats and anything that we could just bring and also lots of water.

The little (inaudible) from the corner box just opened up and just emptied and itself of bottles of water and anything that could be taken to these people. It's just a horror sitting there watching their homes just burn and nothing they can do. It's horrendous.


WALKER: Yes, just terrifying to hear these accounts and to imagine the worst-case scenario if there are some people who are still trapped inside.

Phil Black just arrived on the scene. He is joining us now live. Phil -- take us through what you have learned since you've arrived on the scene. And also what about evacuations there in the area especially if there are concerns about the integrity of this 27-story apartment complex.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well as you say I just arrived and just taking it in. And as you've no doubt been talking about for sometime now, it is just an incredibly dramatic sight to stand here and look at this. As I stand here and see the tower of smoke still going up into the sky the entire building itself is blackened and charred and there are still enormous flames leaping from the building as we can see from this angle.

As well as debris falling constantly in the street, which is perhaps now a couple of blocks away from the actual building itself where we've been pushed back to. There is actually burnt debris that has just sort of littered all over the street -- to give you a sense just how far it pushed out no doubt when the fire was perhaps at its height. But what we can see here is still this incredibly dramatic fire underway.

Just in the streets around here there are ambulances -- I've lost count, there's so many of them. They've literally formed up a convoy in the blocks leading around here. And in addition to that residences simply watching in shock and surprise -- these are people who were -- who were woken up over the course of the night by the sounds of the sirens, the helicopters and so forth.

I'm just going to give you a quick look. We're going to turn the camera slowly to sort of let you see the crowd that is the just simply standing here somewhat awe struck as I am, as I say having just arrived here earlier very short time ago.

[00:15:04] It is clear that this building is still very much under fire. That the -- the flames have climbed through -- we know it's about a 27-story building -- it's clearly climbed through most of them. And it looks to some degree as if the fire has spread across the outside surface of the building as well.

But that -- that tower of smoke I can tell you driving across London in the early hours of this morning -- it is visible from a huge distance away. It is -- as I say hugely visible. And even as I stand, huge pieces of debris still falling off the building.

So this is the dramatic situation that we are -- we are witnessing unfold here in West London this morning, surrounded by many dozens of people who are just simply watching, concerned, very shocked by what they're seeing here today.

Back to you.

VAUSE: Phil Black there on the scene. So, Phil -- as best you can tell one of the concerns obviously is the collapse of this building. You know, if there is this potential for this building to come down, what are the emergency services done about that as best you can tell? Have they evacuated the area nearby? What -- you know, provisions or what are they doing in case that happens?

BLACK: Well, they set up these perimeters. I would guess that around 500 meters away from the building itself -- John, I think. There is no evidence so far that the building is set to go. I've got to say that just to be very clear.

The damage that I can see it's largely to the surface of the building. Obviously these are tall heavily-engineered, this thing is decades old already. It's not going to come down easily. But there is no doubt it has suffered catastrophic damage here today.

The key concern, I suspect for the emergency services remains for those who are trapped inside, those who were damaged and it's very likely that -- those who were injured, I should say -- and it's very likely that most of those injuries are going to come as a result of smoke inhalation.

Of course, we've been hearing, as I'm sure you have as well, about the reports of people being trapped in the building; people using flashlights and phones to try and get attention to that emergency services very high up in the building and so forth. It is very difficult to imagine what it must be like in that building now, now some hours after the fire actually started.

But what we've heard from the Fire Department is that they have been going in using breathing apparatus and so forth to rescue people. Where we are now as I say it's the external perimeter, it's about 500 meters away from the building itself.

The building, although there are large pieces of debris coming down, they largely appear to be surface debris -- it's from the outside, if you like, outside of the building not from the interior.

The fire is very dramatic. But as I say I just want to be -- I think it's worth stressing that there is no evidence at this stage that the building is about to collapse. I think that if that were about to happen then I think the emergency services would be -- they'd be pushing everyone a lot further back than they already are.

I suspect they pushed us back to a distance they suspect would be safe given the height of the building, but where we're standing there, I want to say, there's a lot of ambulances. The police are maintaining this perimeter. And I think that there is now -- things seem a little more established than they would have just a few hours ago -- John.

WALKER: And again, there is a lot of things that we don't know right now. The main thing we don't know is what caused this massive fire of this 27-story apartment building in West London? How many people perhaps may have been trapped inside? What kind of injuries there are? How many people are injured?

But Phil -- if you could just reset and take us through the timeline because this fire broke out in the wee hours of the morning when most people would be in their beds sleeping.

BLACK: Yes, that's right. I believe it was around 1:00 a.m. local time. That's when the authorities say they first got the call that it started very high up the building. They say the second floor from the top. And so you can see by looking at the tower behind me that it's clearly spread and spread in a very dramatic way.

That's why I get the sense that perhaps it also spread across the surface of the building as well. It does look like that there are sort of balconies and window-type structures that may have helped the fire spread across the facade of the building.

But it started up very high. No doubt the evacuations began very soon. But it's the smoke that would have made it very difficult for people to get out. And so even -- that's why even some time after that fire started there were reports of people being seen calling for help, using flashlights and so forth very high up the building trying to get attention, trying to get help out.

[00:19:55] Now, I haven't received an update on just what those numbers -- rescued number, injured or perhaps worse have been so far. But you can imagine when the fire department talks about operating under very difficult circumstances they're talking about operating in that very thick smoke in very narrow buildings -- in the very narrow corridors, the small rooms and the stairwells of that huge tower.

The residents, the number of people of people who would have been in there, easily hundreds perhaps more, you'd have to say. So it's a terrible thing to wake up to in the middle of the night. And it would have been incredibly panicked.

And you can just imagine the fear of those people as they were trying to get out, particularly if they felt they couldn't do so because of the thick smoke that would have been filling the rooms and corridors very, very quickly as the fire evidently spread either through or across the surface of the building.

VAUSE: Phil -- thank you. Please stay with us where you are because we also have Oren Liebermann on the scene.

And if you are just joining us right now, we are of course covering this huge high-rise fire at an apartment block in the western part of London -- 200 firefighters, 45 trucks, 20 ambulances on scene.

Oren Liebermann -- you actually are joining us now and I believe you have a witness who can tell us more about what may have happened.

LIEBERMANN: Absolutely. There are a number of people here, some two to three dozens have been standing here and watching this fire unfold. And one of those standing with me here is Ayyubbe. And Ayyubbe you have cousins here. What have you seen and what have you heard from your cousins?

AYYUBBE ASAL, WITNESS: Well basically I was at my cousin's house before, at his (inaudible) -- and I saw the fire from about five miles away. And we quickly came and I didn't see much work going on by the fire brigade so obviously me and my cousins, we were jumping walls to get to the main entrance of the place.

My cousin lives on the 18th floor. We couldn't go inside but police and stuff -- they wouldn't let us go through so we had to barge through as the fire department went upstairs I saw a kid -- I was helping a kid. I saw a kid that couldn't breathe properly. My nephew was in there, my cousin was in there in the 18th floor and so it was a tragic moment.

LIEBERMANN: Have you heard from your cousins? Have you seen your nephew?

ASAL: Yes, we brought them out. We held them out in our arms and the paramedics took them down to the hospital. We don't know what's happened.

LIEBERMANN: You know your family is safe. What was going through your mind then and what is going through your mind now?

ASAL: What was going through my mind is just when I saved my family. I saw people jumping out the window. I mean it was crazy. Saw people jumping out the window.

What was going in my mind I couldn't tell you because at the time I just wanted to save my family -- my whole family was with us. We all did it together. That's about it.

LIEBERMANN: And in the hours since, since you know your family is safe and you've watched this here now what have you seen there? What have you seen in this building?

ASAL: What I've seen is a whole big fire. I've seen people jumping out, people running. It was crazy. It was crazy. But a few people told me before they wanted to knock this building down. So I don't know now.

LIEBERMANN: And why? What was it about the building?

ASAL: I don't know. The installation wasn't good; that's what I'm hearing. The installation wasn't good.

LIEBERMANN: How long did your cousins live here? And what did they say?

ASAL: Well, he's lived there for about five, six years.

The 18th floor you can't get away from a fire on the 18th floor. By God's grace, they got out.

LIEBERMANN: When you knew, you said you were five miles away. That's incredibly far away. When you saw the flames did you know it was this building?

ASAL: We got a phone call from our aunty saying that there was a fire in the building. But at that time, we didn't know if anyone is in the house. But Alfonse (ph) was in the house on the 18th floor.

LIEBERMANN: Your cousins, you know, are safe. You were able to help them down. You had mentioned that your nephew, I believe was having difficulty breathing. Where are they now? And what happens next for your family?

ASAL: Now they're in the hospital getting treatment. Hopefully it's the right treatment but I don't know what happens next.

LIEBERMANN: Still scared at this point it seems a little bit. ASAL: Of course. Of course. Seeing your -- your little cousin in

his hands and not breathing properly it's a mad thing. All my thoughts go out to the people that were there.

LIEBERMANN: You get a sense of how much this meant and how scared everyone is in this neighborhood.

ASAL: Everyone, yes.

LIEBERMANN: Groups standing around us seem terrified.

ASAL: The whole public was trying to help. Not just -- the whole public was trying to go in and help. Me myself was jumping, I was jumping gates to go out when I knew my family was inside. Whoever came out, I was just grabbing them putting them with the paramedics.

LIEBERMANN: They say the fire spread to the entire building very quickly. Is that what you saw?

ASAL: Yes. It spread very quickly, yes.

LIEBERMANN: And I'll point out that when I asked that, a number of other people who are just listening in the area also said yes. That you gives you an idea of how quickly it spread.

ASAL: It started from the fourth floor.

LIEBERMANN: Fourth floor?

ASAL: Fourth floor, around 1:30 and it hasn't even ended yet and it's what 6:00, 7:00 in the morning and still not ended.

LIEBERMANN: Just about 6:00 in the morning.

ASAL: Yes. And it's still not ended.

LIEBERMANN: Still many hours ahead. Your family -- how soon do you hope to talk to them again to find out that they're ok? As soon as you can.

ASAL: As soon as possible. As soon as possible. I'm going to go find out now hopefully.

LIEBERMANN: What about those with you. You're here with a small crowd. Did everyone try to approach --

[00:24:56] ASAL: Everyone. Everyone. My cousins are here, they helped. We actually went past the police, the firemen -- we were just jumping over them. At that time my mind is not thinking right. That was a bad moment -- tragic, crazy.

LIEBERMANN: It seems in control on the ground in terms of police having blocked off the area. But what you're describing it seems like chaos in the first minutes.

ASAL: I was right in front of the -- bricks are falling as you can see right now. It was on the floor. So, yes. It was crazy, crazy, man -- hard to explain.

LIEBERMANN: Ayyubbe -- thank you very much for your time.

ASAL: Thank you.

LIEBERMANN: You get a sense there of the fear of what was going through his mind especially as his cousins were inside the building. He was lucky enough to have been able to get to his cousins and he's been able to help them out. The worst fear of everybody was that not everyone was able to get out.

But he describes evacuations. He describes many others getting out. The question remains how many were inside? How many others could not get out? We'll be in touch with Ayyubbe throughout the day as well as others who have watched this and perhaps others who have family members inside.

WALKER: Yes. It's just terrifying to hear these accounts and lucky for this man so far that his cousins were able to get out from that 18th floor although we'll have to wait for an update on their conditions.

Oren Liebermann -- stand by. We also want to talk to another witness. His name is Omar Choudry (ph). He's joining us now on the line. He was at the fire. He arrived there about an hour after it started.

Omar -- tell us what you saw when you arrived on scene?

OMAR CHOUDRY, WITNESS (via telephone): So, yes, I arrived just as I was on my way home. I saw the blaze just kind of -- it was one side of the building was completely on fire. It was absolutely like top to bottom covered. It was quite dark (inaudible). And sun just hadn't even risen yet. So you could literally see it very, very clearly.

And you know, plain sight of it. I tried to stop for the (inaudible) as well. It was a very -- hadn't taken control of the situation yet. And after a while it was moving along it was very, very intense.

VAUSE: Omar, was it -- could you tell when you arrived, was the fire still like contained to the upper part of the building or by that point had it spread to all of the floors?

CHOUDRY: I think by then it spread through most of the building. It's probably at its peek at the time. It was like you could see bodies falling out of the building. You could see people just like that had been caught up in the blaze and trying to jump down, you know. (inaudible)

And I was there with my wife and it was just -- it was just absolutely incredible to witness as well as and you could see it from very, very far. I'm at home now which is, you know, a few miles away. But you can still see the smoke from here. It was (inaudible) like anywhere in London you could probably see the smoke from the fire. It's huge.

WALKER: Omar -- you're like the fourth or fifth witness that I have heard say that you saw people jumping out of the windows falling out of the building. Can you go a little bit more into that? How many people did you see jumping from the building and from how high up? What floors were they jumping from?

CHOUDRY: Well, they say there is about -- over 24 floors in the building. So I think from about -- about midway so maybe about 12th, 13th floor.

WALKER: Goodness.

CHOUDRY: My wife saw maybe one or two. I saw a couple as well. I don't know exactly how many because at that point it's shocking seeing it. But definitely there was obviously debris flying around as well just form the building. But you could clearly see someone jumping off yes, I think from about the midway point.

From the top it was completely in a blaze. You didn't know what was going on. And you could see, literally see individuals and you know, the fires within them as well, like room by room just fire, fire, fire. Just in flames and it just kept growing.

VAUSE: Omar -- there are some reports out there that some of the residents of he this building tried to tie sheets together sort of make ropes actually to escape the flames. Did you see anything like that?

CHOUDRY: What's that? Sorry -- could you repeat the question?

VAUSE: Did you see any residents using sheets, tying them together to try and, you know, climb down the side of the building or trying to get away from the fire.

CHOUDRY: No I didn't -- no, I didn't see anything like that because there was too much fire in the way to see that exactly like what you tell us. There was a lot of emergency services arriving at the time so they were just blocking off. There is a main flat highway there that leads in to Central London from, you know, West London and they just closed it of and that's like a major road.

So right now like everyone is probably going to work and that road is closed off. So you couldn't go there. But literally as we arrived they were like blocking the roads off. Emergency services were arriving. And there was a lot of fire engines and fire brigade there as well.

The news report just coming out at the time while it was happening. So it was very fresh and we didn't have too much information at that time.

VAUSE: Could you tell what the firefighters were actually doing at that point? Were they -- could you see if they were going into the building at that stage or were you too far away?

CHOUDRY: You could see that they closed a lot of the areas around here at the time. Closed off like the police cordon, but then the fireman were going through and you couldn't get that close to the building as possible. From where I was standing, you can't see directly the building. You don't know what's happening on the ground. But you could see the blaze in front of you, the building itself.

AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: Omar, I'm just still stuck on what you told us just a few minutes ago about seeing people jumping from the building there from as high as possibly the 12th or 13th floor.

Just terrifying to imagine what must these people have been going through when they decided to jump out of this burning building.

If you're just joining us, to our viewers, we want to recap this breaking news that we've been following.

Omar, if you can stand by for just a moment as we update our viewers on this story that we're following.

A massive fire has completely engulfed a 27-story apartment block in West London. About 200 firefighters are trying to get the situation under control.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Police say they've been evacuating this block of flats in Lancaster Western Estate in North Kensington. The fire broke out overnight when most people were probably asleep at the time.

So far we know at least two people have been treated for smoke inhalation. But clearly we are waiting to hear a lot more about injuries, possible fatalities as we heard from a lot of witnesses including Omar, who is on the line with us, a lot of residents there apparently were forced to jump from the building.

WALKER: And it's still unclear what caused this massive fire that firefighters continue to battle. We will stay on top of this bring you more details as we get them in.

In the meantime eye witness Michael Kyriakou lives near the apartment block and he said he saw people inside begging for help.


MICHAEL KYRIAKOU, WITNESS (via telephone): We got there about half past 1:00. The time it started about past 1:00. So within 15 minutes the whole right side from where I was standing was alight. And then as I said, you could see people on the top left side, with lights lasers flashing. And we think about -- actually within an hour, it had engulfed the top part of the top end of the apartments.

And as I was leaving, we saw a ladder going to one apartment and we saw someone getting out which is obviously incredible.

WALKER: And Michael how many people do you think you saw come out of the building safely?

KYRIAKOU: I didn't see anybody get out. But then I wasn't, you know, by that point the police had cordoned off underneath it. People, though -- lots of people coming back, it was half past the warnings, people going back home and when you heard them talking to people that live there (INAUDIBLE) evacuation on the other side of the apartments. So I'm assuming there are quite a few evacuated.

There's people in bathrobes. People in slippers all around us. You know there is tons of people in that apartment so hopefully as many as possible got out. But as I said poor people on the top floors. Apparently, I heard and this is from a local resident there, there seems to one staircase in the whole block of flats and there was a complete panic. And you can imagine tons of people trying to evacuate one staircase, it can be quite hard.


VAUSE: OK, a witness there on the line talking about the battle to try and bring this blaze under control which has been burning now for more than four hours and continues to burn, continues to smoulder.

You can see the plumes of black smoke or gray smoke in the sky line there over London.

Phil Black is on the scene of the fire.

And, Phil, we know that one of the consequences of this fire, the smoke appears to be so thick out of the authorities have been forced to close a number of roads not far from where you are.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there is a wide area around here, John, that has been locked down including a couple of major roads that run through the east west of London here.

It appears the smoke and the debris, it was at one point moving and being thrown a lot further than perhaps it currently is now. As I say these streets where I'm standing now some distance from the building, about 500 meters or so. They are littered with big pieces of black debris from the building. Some of them quite heavy. And it looks like they were simply thrown or caught on the wind or the power of the flame has been as I say it's come down across a wide area around here.

[00:35:00] As we speak now looking up to the building, there are still some flames dancing and sort of leaping out of the windows of the building itself. But that appears to have reduce somewhat, I think, just over the last 20 minutes or so.

But within the building if you look into those -- what's left of the windows, you can still see this powerful orange glow within. So the building is still very much on fire. We can see some of the fire hoses doing their best to throw water up into that building. But a lot of the flames that we see are still very high up the building itself.

It all gives that sense to stand here and watch this go up in flames. It gives a real powerful sense of just how terrifying it must have been to have been woken by those fires in the middle of the night.

These buildings, well, lots of people live in them. We don't know the precise number for these building, but it easily would have been hundreds.

The apartments usually aren't very big. The hallways are usually pretty narrow. The entry and exit ways, you could just imagine the panic, the fear that must gripped people who were struggling to escape the flames. But more crucially the smoke itself which would have filled this building very, very quickly. It would have made it very, very difficult for people to escape.

We've been hearing lots of incredible stories. Things that people have seen. People crying for help, leaping for help.

Our producer Sam Abdulaziz (ph), he spoke to a woman, who knew a family up on the 17th floor, a family of five, who apparently called and said they were trapped and surrounded by flame.

It is just such a terrifying situation to imagine. The emergency service activity around this perimeter, it appears to have stabilized somewhat. There are still a lot of ambulances around here, some coming and going but most now seem to be in a holding pattern.

So as you say, we're now waiting for those crucial figures to determine what the human cost of this has in fact been. The number of injuries or perhaps worse.

The firefighters themselves are still very much focused on trying to put an end to the fire. As I said it appears that they appear to be having some luck in doing so.

The fierce nature of the flames as it was happening when I arrived here with the flames literally leaping from the windows across many floors that appears to have eased somewhat. But within that powerful orange glow, and you can see there's still a lot of work to be done there.

WALKER: It's heart breaking to hear these stories and it makes you wonder what happened to some of these families, of people who were inside this apartment -- in this apartment building, waving their flashlights and iPhones or cell phones I should say to gain the attention of people. Begging people for help.

People jumping from high-up floors just to escape the horrendous heat there.

We also heard from a witness, Phil, that this -- these flames spread pretty quickly and that the building -- the entire building much of the entire media building was quickly engulfed.

But there is still a lot of things we don't know, right? You know, like the fire alarms? Were they working? Did they go off? The sprinkle system, you know, was it activated? Was there one there? And how much time people may have had or not have had to get out of the building?

BLACK: Yes, indeed. No doubt there are a lot of questions that will need to be asked and examined about to what extent this building was fit and proper and ready to deal with an emergency of this kind. And there will be -- you know, these sorts of fires and these big tower blocks, they have happened before and they have usually resulted in safety reviews to ensure that the buildings are ready and prepared to do this. But they're not regular events. That's important to point out. But they have happened before.

In terms of how quickly this fire spread, there is this sense I think that the fire may have spread across the facade of the building. Some witnesses have spoken about that as well. Perhaps timber frames, balconies. It's difficult to see because we can't see based upon what's left of it now what the original state of the building was like.

But there is no doubt the actual face of the building itself has suffered extraordinary damage. And if the fire was able to move between floors at such a rapid pace, that could begin explain why.

Now of course all of that, well, that just simply would have spread the fear and the panic and simply increased the number of people who were potentially at threat not just from the flames but the smoke itself.

That thick, black, noxious smoke that would have filled people's bedrooms and living rooms and hallways, had really made it very, very difficult for them to find their way out, particularly if they weren't able to respond quickly and filter the air in some way.

Usually firefighters recommend a wet towel or that sort of thing, to get down low because the smoke tends to rise. But, of course, when it's all happening so very quickly, well, you can imagine as I say the fear, the panic.

And if the fire was moving quickly not just within the building but across the surface of the building as well, all of that would have combined to make a truly panicked and desperate situation.

And that really supports all the witness accounts that we've been hearing through the morning about the nature in which people found themselves trapped at very high levels desperate to escape, screaming, using whatever they can to gesture for help.

[00:40:30] We are waiting to hear from the authorities here just how successful ultimately that desperate evacuation was. But you can imagine that it would have been just so very difficult. That's what the firefighters are talking about. We know that some of them went into the building using breathing apparatus and so forth.

And for them, in that environment, moving up and down narrow stairways as I say, these smoke-filled hallways and so forth, no doubt they did all they possibly could.

Now we're waiting to hear just how ultimately successful they were in getting many hundreds of people that live in this building out to safety.

VAUSE: Phil, just tell us more about this building because it's 27 stories tall. It is a concrete building. Is it public housing, do we know that?

BLACK: I don't know for certain but I suspect it is. If it wasn't -- if it isn't now, then it probably once was. It's the sort of building of which there are many in London. Very tall buildings built post war, post-World War II, I should say.

Largely concrete in construction. These are what locals call council housing or public housing. This is subsidized housing. Affordable housing, if you like. These are all the things that it's called.

And so it's usually people on lower incomes who are receiving assistance to live in these buildings which are ultimately managed by local authorities. But sometimes by third party private companies while working on behalf of those local authorities.

And so as I say, there's lots of them. And that's why it's worth noting that this isn't the first of these buildings to be hit by fire. But it is far from a regular event. Health and safety, well, it's pretty carefully policed in this country as you can imagine.

But clearly something has happened -- something has gone wrong. And almost worst-case scenario has developed where not only has a fire started, but it has been able to move either through or across the base of the building incredibly quickly. And that is what has threatened so many lives here today.

VAUSE: Phil, thank you.

Phil Black there on the scene with one view of this fire at this high- rise building there in the western part of London. That is the building as it is right now.

And this is how the building looked before the fire began. So you can see, it's a fairly basic concrete structure as Phil was saying. He said it looks as if it was public lousing. It seems to be that way.

That it was public housing, operated by the local council there. And of course, one of the issues that we are now looking into concerns about safety, were there any red flags, had any issues been raised in past? What the residents had been saying?

We are also told that the building at the time of this blaze was undergoing some kind of retrofit, some kind of upgrade as well.

WALKER: Being updated. Right, yes. It subject to a $10.9 million redevelopment. That's according to the property from Rydon.

Let's go over now to Oren Liebermann, who is still there on the scene. He's got a different vantage point.

And, Oren, I know you've been talking to people. You spoke with a witness recently who spoke about how he actually ran into building to save his own family members from the fire.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We spoke with a young man, Ayub Azi (ph), who saw the flames, he said, from five miles away and immediately realized the area that it must be coming from. Although he doesn't live in the area his cousin, he says, lives on the 18th floor of the building.

His cousin and their family, 18 floors puts them nearly at the top. Within 10 floors of the top. And certainly within what would be the most dangerous area near the top, very difficult to escape, very difficult to evacuate and get to safety.

He was here in the early chaos. What you see behind me now is fairly ordered, fairly structured with police having blocked off a large area. But he was here before it was that order. And he described himself running towards the building, jumping over fences and trying to run through police cordons to get to his family, to get inside as he went into the building.

I'll step out of the way here as I continue to tell you what he was able to tell us, Ayub Azi (ph). And he was able to get in and get to his family.

As he carried his young nephew out down the stairs. His nephew was having trouble breathing. I asked him where is your family now. They were taken to the hospital as well as many others who are evacuated. We saw other families, other people being evacuated at that particular time.

And even if this is hours later, hours after he was able to get his family to safety, it was evident that he was still scared even with his family in the hospital receiving treatment.

He was still nervous about their condition and the condition of so many others. And that's what we've seen from where we're standing. It sounds like we're about the same distance from the building as Phil Black, but on a different side of the building.

[00:45:00] Still you see the damage to this building. And we see the crowd here, some two or three dozen people. Mostly not evacuees, mostly neighbors here who have just come out since I've been here over the last couple of hours to see the building.

What you see now mostly black smoke pouring out of the building with a few hot spots still inside. What you see now is much less than what it was a couple hours ago when nearly every single window had flames either pouring out of it or you could see into the building and see the flames on the inside.

The smoke began to dissipate. I would say some 90 minutes ago, perhaps an hour ago. And then you can see the facade of the building, a charred brown, very deep dark brown and black. And evidence of the smoke that has been pouring out for hours now. The fire that has been pouring out for hours.

There is one little bit we can see from our perspective. And we see about the top half of the building. There is a little bit we can see that isn't burned on the outside. Of course, there is no guarantee that it wasn't burned on the inside. And as we've seen here just a moment ago, there was another piece of charred debris, another piece of some sort of charred soot falling off the building.

We've seen here, since I've been here firefighters, more firefighters, more police and more ambulances coming and going mostly of course coming as they still try to get this fire under control.

Then as you point out come all of the other questions. First, of course, how many people were inside? How many people were able to get out? And after that, questions about what caused it? How did it start? Where did it start? Can it be prevented again?

And then questions about the state of the building itself. Was it up- to-date in all of its safety measures? What were its safety measures? All of that is in the future. First, though, is getting this under control and see if there was anybody who wasn't able to get out of.

The latest number we have at this point is simply two, who suffered smoke inhalation. That number is certain to rise.

VAUSE: And, Oren, also, the immediate concern also for the people who no longer have somewhere to live are those who have been evacuated from this building, where have they been taken?

And you also told us earlier, one of your witnesses, did they talked about how the people in the neighborhood simply rallied around and tried to help out as best they could.

LIEBERMANN: I suspect that many of those were evacuated will stay in the hospital if they were seriously injured or seriously suffered smoke inhalation for a little bit this morning.

Then it's the function of either having family nearby, perhaps in the city that they can go to, or we've seen -- I've seen after fires of this nature, fires that are so bad, an outpouring of support, whether it's from people offering places to sleep or perhaps hotels or hostels giving some people a place to stay until they can try to get their feet under them.

Because it seems from where we are standing, looking into the building that whatever was inside, there simply isn't much of it left. Homes, entire homes and apartments burned out.

Phil, in his description of what he was seeing, described what must have been the inevitable chaos inside. And we heard from the eye witness about the chaos outside in the moments and minutes after this fire started.

That will eventually lead to many of this people who were able to get out, having no where to go and nothing left with them. That, I suspect, is where we will see an outpouring of support to try to get them on their feet as quickly as possible.

In fact, very much is where the community will step in after the emergency services, the firefighters and the police have done their job on this early morning in London.

WALKER: All right, Oren Liebermann, thank you for that.

We're going to turn now to Robert Rowe. He's the fire investigator and president of Pyrocop Incorporated. He's the former fire marshal of Downey, California.

Robert, thank you so much for joining us.

First off, I just want to get your assessment of what you think of the pictures that we've seen and also the accounts about this fire spreading so quickly through this high rise.

ROBERT ROWE, PRESIDENT, PYROCOP INCORPORATED: Well, I see that the fire spreading as quickly as it did. It didn't appear that the building was in fact equipped with a fire sprinkler system. Either it was out of service or it was somehow inoperable at the time.

Again that's with the assumption that there was in fact a fire sprinkler to begin with. Of course fire sprinklers are absolute life savers in high rise builds such as these 27 stories.

I mean, in the U.S., it's mandatory to have sprinklers in those types of building. So without a sprinkler system or without a sprinkler system that was active and working properly, you're going to see this type of fire spreading quickly through the building.

VAUSE: Robert, we just want to point out to our viewers that, you know, you have been watching this just like us. And you know you -- you were talking from your experience fighting fires. You don't know a lot about this building obviously in London, but you know about fires which is why we have you right now.

And battling a fire in a high rise comes with a unique set of challenges from communications to water pressure, to falling debris, to simply trying to get into the building in the first place.

[00:50:00] ROWE: That is correct. I mean, high-rise firefighter is probably one of the most difficult types of fire fighting there is. You have to think first of all about safety. And, of course, you know you're trying to safe as many lives as possible. So you have a lot of issues that come up during that operation, which is again as you said communication, adequate water supply, and being able to know the layout of the building, knowing which direction you're sending firefighters. Making sure that the stairwells are all isolated from the main hallway so that they have an operational area to work with.

There are a lot of things that firefighters need to think about. If the system -- the fire sprinkler system is in place, then you're going to be thinking about pumping that system with your apparatus. Make sure water supply gets to the top floors.

WALER: You were just mentioning that it doesn't look like that there -- the building was equipped with a fire sprinkler system judging by the nature of how fast this fire moved through according to witnesses.

Tell us more about sprinkler systems and how much they slow down the spread of a fire.

ROWE: Well, first of all, the sprinkler system when properly installed and operating as designed are going to stop the fire in its insipient or its beginning stages all together. And it will hold the fire to a small area of an apartment, where you won't even have this type of fire to have to contend with later on down in the road as this fire as you see has progressed.

So basically what a fire sprinkler system does is it stops it immediately. It's the fastest water you can put on a fire. And when a system is functioning and operational and well-designed, you won't have a fire of any magnitude. It will be stopped right there in the single room.

WALKER: And what about the role of fire walls in high rises as well. They also serve to slow down the spread of fires, right?

ROWE: That's correct. And, you know, codes have changed over the years. My understanding is that these buildings have been around for some time. So there is -- there are going to be codes that were in place at the time of construction, which the codes now address the isolation of fires in sections.

So you're going to have a situation with these buildings that are going to be a little different than today's buildings that you see now that are being constructed with the new codes in place.

VAUSE: Robert, we're being told by witnesses who were there within a hour of this fire taking hold that they saw residents jumping from the building. From up near the 12th floor, for example.

What does that tell you I guess firstly about the nature of this fire and also does that say anything about possibly the state of the fire escapes in this building?

Well, you know without having an intimate knowledge of the layout of the building, just by the fact that people are taking a desperate measure to jump tells me that this fire was moving very quickly and the options were being reduced by the minute.

So you know it's a hard -- to be able to tell you exactly what's going on. But some of the photographs that I've seen, some of the footage I've seen is definitely -- this fire is moving much quicker than any fire that you would see that, you know, where a building would be properly coded, you know where the proper codes in place and a fire alarm safety system in place such as a fire sprinkler system.

So very desperate measures for very desperate times. Very short and very fast moving fire.

VAUSE: Robert, would you please stay with us. Stay with us if you have time, because we very much appreciate your expertise right now. But we do have another witness who is joining us on the line.

Abdullah Barraq Mohidin, he is near the building. He has actually can see the building, where it's been burned earlier. He saw the fire as it actually took hold.

So tell us now essentially what you can see and what you think has happened to the people who have been evacuated from the building.

ABDULLAH BARRAQ MOHIDIN, EYEWITNESS (via telephone): OK. Well, where I'm sitting right now, I'm seeing a black smoke. I'm seeing the building like all blacked out now here. But before -- at 1:30, I came back -- I was there. And then I park my car up. I saw a fire here and people calling for the fire. People were calling for the fire engines. And they came.

[00:55:00] They were telling people to go back in their own houses so they could fight the fire. People were going back in their houses. And then, like -- like the fire chief was going up, up, all the way towards like the ceiling of the building.

And then they told everyone, I can't explain it. Right now, I'm seeing, I'm seeing, I'm seeing the building right now here. What I saw, people, people were shouting for help, yes. And then no one, no one helped them. Like -- people were jumping out of their windows.

People -- people shouting for help for hours and hours. And -- and no one helped them. But no one seemed to help them. The police were telling people to stay back, yes? Police were telling them stay in your houses, stay in your houses, we'll come to help you guys. And no one -- no one inside.

Everyone was outside. The fire trucks around the building telling people do you know what's the fastest way to go inside the building. People on the street, what's the fastest way to get in the building? Like there was so much ways to get in that building.

WALKER: How many people -- Abdullah, how many people did you see shouting for help?

MOHIDIN: I saw maybe like 15 people. There was a mother, a dad or a son. They were at the 18th floor. And there was shouting for like three hours. For three hours they were shouting help, help, help. The fire was on the other side of the building. The fire was so small. Like the way it was here is like they could have went to the other side or went upstairs and gotten people downstairs, yes? But no one did help them.


WALKER: Did you see anyone run inside to the building? Were there other bystanders who ran inside the building to try to get people out? Did you see that? Or did you see people running out of the building, who are actually in the fire.


MOHIDIN: There was -- there was an Asian guy. There was an Asian guy that had cousins in there, in the building. He was shouting. He was shouting my cousins, my cousins. He ran inside, try to help people and then like, I don't know, he came downstairs. He's, in fact, telling people -- the police are telling people -- the police and the fire people are telling people go back to your own houses, stay in your houses, lock your doors, yes. They are coming right now. The fire is nothing. The fire is small, you know, so.

They went back to the houses where it would be safe, waiting for the fire to close on them and shut off but no one helped, like no one went inside and helped.

The fire trucks were going by the building, several. The -- what you call it, the ambulance were just parked up in one place. They weren't moving. And then no -- you see body bags, black body bags of people, dead people, body bags and body bags.

VAUSE: Abdullah, do you know if the -- Abdullah, do you know if the residents -- do you know anybody who actually lives in that building, or are you just a witness who turned up on the scene. Or do you know anyone who live there?



VAUSE: Do you know people who actually live in that building.


VAUSE: Do you have family or friends who live there in the building?

MOHIDIN: No, I've got a friend that lives there. And I've got -- I've got couple of friends that -- their family, they came out as soon as the fire. But one of my friends, he was trying directing his mom to come down the building, like she was scared to come out of the house and directing her to the staircase to come down and she was scared.


VAUSE: Just very quickly, Abdullah, did those friends of yours, have they ever complained or said anything to you about the safety standards of this building in the past?

MOHIDIN: You know, that building, yes, they should have changed it long time ago. But the only thing they've done to that building, yes, is give it a face lift, you know, just the outside just so it looks nice. But the inside of this building is just -- the old, old system they have in there. Everything is old in there.

VAUSE: OK. Abdullah, thank you for being with us.


MOHIDIN: Outside of the building --

VAUSE: Abdullah Barraq Mohidin, thank you so much for joining us on the line and telling us what is some very disturbing and horrendous details of people screaming for help. A mother and a child on the 18th floor according to Abdullah yelling for three hours for help.

One thing we should say in a situation like this, the firefighters and the police will wait for the right number of, you know -- of emergency personnel to go into that building because there is nothing they can do if they go in separately. It will just lead to further fatalities.

WALKER: Yes, a lot of logistical challenges we heard from the fire investigator that we are speaking with.