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Fire Engulfs 27-Story Apartment Tower In London; Witness Trapped Man Had Flames All Around Him. Aired 1-2a ET
Aired June 14, 2017 - 01:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT AND ANCHOR: Yes. A lot of logistical challenges, as we heard from the fire investigator that we are speaking with. Hello, everyone, thanks for being with us. I'm Amara Walker in Los Angeles.
VAUSE: And I'm John Vause. We are following breaking news from West London, a massive fire complete engulfing a 27-story apartment building, started overnight, flames burning through every window in the building. Now, early morning, there's a thick cloud of black smoke billowing from the high-rise.
WALKER: And we don't know exactly how many people may have been injured. We were told earlier that two people were being treated for a smoke inhalation, but witnesses also telling us they saw people jumping from the building overnight-from the 12th and 13th floor, is what one witness told us. We've also learned that A-4, a major road in West London is closed in both directions while emergency crews are on the scene. No word yet on how this fire started.
VAUSE: Oren Liebermann is also on the scene, he joins us now live. So, Oren, as the day breaks and many people try to find out exactly what has happened here, what do we know about what may have caused this fire? How many people got out? And of course tragically, the situation with people who may have been forced to jump, to try and escape the flames?
OREN LIEBERMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We've heard a number of eyewitnesses this morning, describe seeing people jump from the building. We haven't independently confirmed those, but that speaks to the fear of those who watched what was happening inside. And certainly, the fear of all of those that were inside as this fire started and spread very quickly throughout the building. We don't yet have any information on a cause. We have heard some speculation that the fire started lower down and spread up, but that is just speculation at this point.
A cause is something and the investigation into a cause as something that is, at this point, very much down the road until smoke stops pouring out of this building. We've heard from a number of witnesses. I'm joined by Nick Padget-Brown, he is the Leader of the Kensington and Chelsea Council. Nick, we know there were people who were evacuated, some perhaps, even many. What do we know about how many weren't able to evacuate? And about how many have still- NICK PAGET-BROWN, KENSINGTON AND CHELSEA COUNCIL LEADER: We don't yet have an update on the latest position. But I know a number of people have been evacuated safely and taken to community centers nearby, where they are receiving support from the emergency services and from council backup teams. So, everything we can do to help those who've been evacuated is being done. But clearly, as you can see, this is an absolutely devastating fire and it is still ongoing, and the emergency services are dealing with it at the moment. So, we need to be supporting them and making sure that our residents have somewhere safe that they can go.
LIEBERMAN: Any estimate on how many people are getting help in those support centers now?
BROWN: I don't know at the moment. Lists are being prepared at the number of residents. But obviously, not everybody will have been at home when the fire started, so that work is going on at the moment. But a number of being supported at a number different community centers nearby.
LIEBERMAN: And simply looking at this building behind us, you get a very quick sense that is not one day of support that they will need. It just looks like those who were able to get out has just lost everything. Are there other plans in place for long-term support for those who will need to get back on their feet after this?
BROWN: We have a clear emergency plan for dealing with the immediate incident, and then there will need to be a thorough plan of how we can help residents who have lost their homes, and where we next accommodate them. And that work will be starting now and when we have more information, we will share it.
LIEBERMAN: And we have both looked back on this as we've been getting ready for this, simply stunned at what we see behind us. You've been out here for a couple of hours, describe to me what you have seen.
BROWN: Well, I've seen the most devastating fire in a residential building I've ever seen. And by all accounts, it spread quickly, I came here as soon as I can after I heard about it. But there's a big cordon around the area, and our main priority, concern, at the moment is to get residents out safely. And to establish exactly how many people have been injured, or sadly may have lost their lives.
LIEBERMAN: That's still the worst fear - everybody's worst fear at this point?
BROWN: I'm afraid it is. You just have to look at the building and it's a great concern. So, we need more information. This is an early stage of an awful incident. But the council is - all the council's activities are going as they should do, and we will update people as we have more information.
LIEBERMAN: That is Nick Padget-Brown, the Leader of the Kensington and Chelsea Council, describing to us the help being given for those who have been evacuated. It's clear, he doesn't have the answers we want yet either: how many people were inside the building? We know some were evacuated and we've spoken with some who ran in to help others evacuate, and even help family members evacuate. But doesn't yet answer the question of how many weren't able to evacuate, and that, for firefighters and emergency services will be the primary question right now. John.
[01:05:05] VAUSE: So, Oren, is Mr. Padget-Brown still around? Because I was wondering if you could ask him about - this is called Grenfell Tower, this building which has been on fire. There's a Grenfell Action Group, which apparently, according to this blog, warned about this type of tragedy in November of last year, because of safety standards. I was wondering if the Councilman, Mr. Padget- Brown, was around and maybe we can chase that up with him to see if he knows anything about that at some point. But I guess he may have left. We'll leave you to try and maybe follow that up with the Councilman, Padgett Brown. Oren, we will leave to do that.
Our Phil Black is on the scene as well. So, Phil, we understand this is public housing. It was a concrete building. And just explain to us here, what part of London this is, where you're at, and what has been the reaction there from the people nearby.
PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL REPORTER: Sure, John, let's start with the people here first, because that's where all the concern is this morning. We're surrounded by a crowd of people here this morning, many of whom knew people in that building. Some of them say they heard from people over the course of the night, people who were trapped as the fire was moving steadily through the building. People who were either unable to leave, or we were told, one person had said that after speaking to authorities, the firefighters had said, stay where you are, do your best to block the smoke, use towels to keep it from coming through doorways and we'll get to you as quickly as we can. This all backs up a lot of the stories that I know you've been talking about and hearing this morning so far. People who were in the building for some time as the fire was making its way through.
Now, we've been talking about the chaos, no doubt, as the smoke filled the building, the fire crept from floor to floor, across the face of the building and so forth. But for the firefighters who have gone into the building with their breathing apparatus, using, I guess a very organized search and clear process, going room to room, getting people out as they find them. It's perhaps that reason to ensure or to minimize the chaos in the hallways to ensure people don't get lost in halls and stairwells and so forth. That's perhaps why authorities recommended that these people stay where they are. But these locals are asking questions. There are some concerns here, I think, about why people were left in the building for as long as they were, but I know as you pointed out, it's an incredibly difficult situation.
Firefighters have very well drilled practices and procedures for dealing with this sort of situation. And this is, in many cases, the worst case scenario, a very tall tower block, 27 floors. No doubt, at least hundreds of people would have been in there overnight. This is where I'm standing, West London. It's not far from Notting Hill, a very famous part of London, but it is a mixed area of London because as we've been talking about, there's public housing alongside private housing in this area. So, subsidized housing and privately owned homes, all within an area, this particular area of London. In fact, even where I'm standing now, we can see a number of other tower blocks just like that one. They are a very common sight across the London landscape.
In this case, we believe, as you talked about for (INAUDIBLE). The pictures that show the building beforehand, a concrete building, so strong it's been standing there for decades. I know over the course of the evening, there's been concern about how bad is this fire, how bad the damage to the building, what are the chances of the building, perhaps, collapsing. I think that the authorities have set up a perimeter, taking that possibility into account, but it does not appear to be imminent or a serious concern at this time. I think if that were the case, then the authorities would be a lot more agitated than what I'm seeing here right now and would be pushing people a lot further back.
For the moment, they have set up this perimeter around 500 meters around, and they seem to have - well, I wouldn't say calmed down, precisely, but I think they've essentially got this control area under control as the business of putting out the fire in the building itself continues. We'll see if we can move the camera up to the building. I suppose we can, just so you can get a sense of what's happening up there now. Just over the last hour or so, they seem to have made significant progress at extinguishing the flames. It was only a short time ago, really, that we saw flames still dancing out of the window at some distance. We saw huge pieces of debris still raining down from the building itself as that tower of smoke continues to shoot up into the sky.
Now, it's considerably eased, I think. We can see the fire hoses still trained on the building. We have no way of knowing if there are firefighters still inside. But the intensity of the flames has certainly diminished, and even the glow within the building, even if there was a powerful glow within the building, even as the flames themselves seemed to diminish, that's eased off as well. So, the authorities, I think are making - and the firefighters are making considerable progress in actually putting out the fire. But it will take some hours of work to ensure that they are satisfied that that job is done entirely. John, Amara, back to you.
[01:10:31] WALKER: Phil, yes, definitely looks like firefighters are gaining the upper hand, judging from the images that we can see on the screen there. This is, what, five hours after this fire-
VAUSE: Maybe a little more, but essentially it's at that point now where, I guess, it will be smoldering for a while.
WALKER: Phil Black, thank you for your reporting. We want to turn it over again to Oren Lieberman who's also been on the scene for hours, and he joins us now with more and a guest that you have, Oren?
LIEBERMAN: I'm joined now by another witness, a guest who lives in the area, a neighbor here who lives in the area, who had friends inside. Nerissa Davis, you have friends in this building?
NERISSA DAVIS, LOCAL RESIDENT: Yes. LIEBERMAN: You talked to them earlier and have not been able to get
in touch with them since?
DAVIS: Three hours ago, we were able to contact Rose, but now we're trying and she's not answering. Hopefully, she's still alive inside, but who would survive that? The whole building is on fire. My daughter woke me up at 3:00 in the morning and she said, mom, there's a building on fire outside our house. And when I look at it, we watch it from 3:00 in the morning, and I said to my daughter, why there's nothing happening? There's no help.
That kind of frustration and I went down the stairs and talked to my neighbors and she said, yes, why, we can't take much of the ambulance and, you know, fire brigade arriving. There's nothing like that. So, from 3:00 in the morning, we are in front of our house watching the building burning. And I said, like, neighbors passing by and we're asking them like, is there any help that we could do-offer. Said, yes, maybe later on, because no one is allowed to go in there. No one is allowed to go in there.
So, that frustration, I just had my operation yesterday. I'm fighting for my life. And I was diagnosed with triple negative cancer last year, and I just had my operation yesterday and this is what I woke up with. And I said, OK, if I die, I can understand I die because of cancer, but people are stuck there. No help. Maybe there's help, but they can't get in there. But I just, the frustration of like: why they are there? Why they are dying that way? And all I can do is help. I'm going to ask all the neighbors, the local, just help, even with, you know, blankets, food. After this, I'm going to go home and start cooking and I'm going to bring food here. That's all I can help.
LIEBERMAN: Your friend Rose, what floor was she on? And what did she to you when talking to her three hours ago?
DAVIS: Well, she said, it's hot, it's hot, it's hot. That's all we can hear is she's saying it's hot. And then after that, we tried to contact her and she's not answering the phone. She's on the seventh floor. She lives on the seventh floor.
LIEBERMAN: Hours later, it is still scary to be out here and still worrying.
DAVIS: It's worrying, because it's not just Rose, it's the people that I hope not, who live there because there's a grandma of the same school where my son goes to, she was just comforting me last Monday and she lives in that building. And I just hope that I will see her when the children go back to school. I just hope she's not stuck there and fighting for her life right now. I just hope that she will survive. I couldn't speak anymore.
LIEBERMAN: Nerissa Davis, thank you very much. Hope and fear: two things that there are a lot of-right now, as many here who know many in that building. And we've spoken to many of the neighbors in the area who do have a friend or a family member inside that building, they hope that that friend of theirs or that family member is still alive. And yet they fear the worst just given the cut-off communications or simply looking at the building or the damage to that building.
She also touched on another aspect, the outpouring of support that has started and will continue for those who were able to get out, those who lost everything in this fire, as well as a bit of a sense of frustration that more wasn't done faster. Now, it is very important to point out that it seems, just from what we've heard from Phil Black and our colleagues Salma Abdelaziz, that the main firefighting efforts are simply out at a different side of the building. We can see down the street, we see some fire trucks down there, where Phil Black seems has a much better vantage point on the efforts, especially since we cannot see-from our vantage point-the bottom half of the building, where the major firefighting efforts are happening.
[01:15:06] VAUSE: Oren, stand by for us because - let's bring back Robert Rowe out, our Fire Marshal and Fire Investigator on the line. Robert, I'm assuming you're looking at the same images we are and from our perspective, it doesn't appear that the building is leaning or that it's tilting to the left of screen, is that what you're seeing?
ROBERT ROWE, FORMER FIRE MARSHALL: I really can't tell if there are any structural issues going on. The fire does impact the structural integrity of the building. That's always the big question for rescue teams and investigators once the fire is completely out, the structural integrity of the building. So it's kind of hard to tell.
WALKER: When we spoke with you, you were talking about the fact that this fire moved so quickly and you questioned whether or not there was a functioning sprinkler system in place. But we also heard from this woman, Ness Davis, and she was very emotional. She had been trying to be in contact with her friend who lives in this building, for several hours, haven't heard from her since the last time they spoke earlier this morning. Is there anything that anyone, any of these people who are trapped inside could have done to have survived this fire once the building was engulfed?
ROWE: Well, you know, there is this term, its shelter in place. When you're unable to make an escape through an exit staircase or a safe area, the only option left is basically to shelter in place, which is to try your best to seal the doors to the main hallways of the building from your apartment to make sure no smoke, or as best you can, try to keep the smoke out of your space, and then just wait for rescue. But the difficulty there is the number of stories of this building. The Fire Department's extremely limited in reaching victims above the 9th, 10th floor, depending on the apparatus that they have in order to make those rescues. So there's not a lot of option for people to be able to be safe in these units. That's why fire sprinkler systems are so important. And the maintenance of those systems is so important.
VAUSE: Robert, we also heard from another witness, a guy called Abdullah, he was telling us he was at the scene of the fire within an hour, and he saw a lot of people calling for help and he said, no one tried to help them. There were fire crews outside -
WALKER: For hours.
VAUSE: For hours. We don't know if it was hours, it may have seemed like hours. My take on that was, there's no point for fire crews to go into the building until they have the right numbers because that can just lead to further loss of life. Explain to us how the actual logistics would work for the fire crews once they get on scene.
ROWE: You have to understand the firefighters are doing an extremely wonderful job, trying to; first of all, go into this fire with safety in mind. You're correct, if you don't plan out your operation, you're going to wind up losing firefighters or hurting firefighters, which hinders your operation even more. So you have to understand that it is very methodical that these firefighters are taking whatever time they need to get their apparatus set up, their crews organized their plan in place. Minutes seem like hours, and it's difficult and emotional. It's very difficult for the firefighters to do their job, try not to take on that emotion and work their way into a problem. It's very calculated. These gentlemen and these ladies are trained to do this work. They have good equipment.
They have excellent equipment in London. They're doing the very best they can for what they have. And this is a very large building with 27 stories. And then you have this factor of the fire not slowing. Because of what should be in place and what should have been in place. Whether it was installed or not, these fire protection systems and the early warning systems that these buildings need for people to get out safely.
So there's this perfect storm of the building not being in its healthiest condition, the firefighters being overwhelmed with this fire, and then, of course, the emotion that gets that these buildings need for people to get out safely. So there's this perfect storm of the building not being in its healthiest condition, the firefighters being overwhelmed with this fire, and then, of course, the emotion that gets thrown into everything.
WALKER: Sure. There's a human element as well.
ROWE: These poor folks are struggling.
[01:20:16] WALKER: Robert, if you can talk about how you even begin fighting a fire of this size and do you start on the outside? And how do you make the decision as to when the firefighters go on the inside and attack it from the inside?
ROWE: Well, you have to plan your hose streams, the placement of your apparatus; you have to plan the water supply that you're getting for all of this apparatus and this fire-fighting operation. So, you know, you have to do the very best you can, based on what you have, and you have to look at all sides of the building. When they do -- and here in L.A., or in the U.S., it's called size up. You have to look at all aspects of the building, the back, all four sides of the building, see what your risks are, and then you have to try to guess where the fire has actually started. Then you have to plan your hose streams ahead of the fire at the fire. You have to protect exposures. How you're going to conduct your rescue operation. So there's a lot going on that a lot of people don't see.
WALKER: Is it inevitable this fire will collapse if it's been burning for five-plus hours?
ROWE: Well again, my understanding is that this building was a concrete building. I don't know if the steel structure within is protected with a fire retardant product. It's an older building. So there may be protective measures that are supposed to be in a building in today's standards that haven't been put into the building from when the building was built. I don't know if that includes the application of fire retardant materials. I'm not familiar with this structure; I'm not able to give you a definitive opinion as to what the fire will do to this building.
VAUSE: And again, just a reminder for our viewers, that Robert is with us here in California. He has many years of experience as a firefighter, as a fire investigator. So he knows fire, not necessarily this building, but he knows the challenges of dealing with a blaze in a high-rise building like this. And Robert, we've appreciated you being with us. We hope that you can stay with us for a little bit longer but we do have another witness on the line. Kayo Minemimeh, he's been at the scene of this fire for pretty much since it began. Maybe for hours now.
Kayo, tell us exactly what it was like when you first arrived. What did you see? Kayo, are you with us? This is John from CNN. Can you hear me? Hi. Hey, Kayo. It's John from CNN. Can you tell us what you saw when you first arrived?
KAYO MINEMIMEH, EYEWITNESS (through telephone): Well, basically I arrived around 1:30 in London and initially what I saw was from where I was standing, the right side of the building was engulfed in flames, and the left side of the building seemed to be OK at that point in time. At that point in time, we could see, me and other residents, and some residents managed to get out. We were standing by the side and we were watching the fire as it happened. We could see that there were still people inside. And we could still see on the left side of the building where the fire didn't reach at that point.
And you could see on the very top of the building, there were lights flickering in the windows and I think that was indication of people being in the flat or apartment trying to signal to the firefighters that there were people in the property. And then the building became engulfed in flames. I can't say whether they got out or not or that side of the building seemed to catch fire very quickly. And yes, you could see that there was a lot of residents still in the property on that side of the building as the fire were making its way towards them.
WALKER: And Kayo -
MINEMIMEH: And - sorry.
[01:25:24] WALKER: Kayo, talk about the people that you saw that were still trapped inside. What exactly did you see? Did a lot of people -- did you see more lights flickering in other flats on various floors? How many people would you estimate that you saw to have been trapped on the left side of the building?
MINEMIMEH: I saw about three or four people. Also, there was another person, I think he was on about the 11th floor, something like the 11th floor and he'd been there since almost about 2:00. He came towards the window, he was flickering his light. This was about on the 11th floor, he was flickering his light and the firefighters were shining their lights onto his window and he came to the window. I don't think they could actually get to him at that point. But they were firing water cannons all around him. And yes, I think he probably is still in his property until now. I haven't seen him for about half an hour now, but he was definitely there about half an hour ago.
He was still in the property. And he had flames all around him. And he had flames around him from quite a long time. He's a very lucky guy, if he's still alive because I haven't seen him for about half an hour now. But the fire has started to die down. And it started to die down around half an hour ago. I'm going by assumption that he's actually OK from what I've heard.
VAUSE: OK, Kayo. Thank you for sharing what you saw. Clearly, it seems as if you were on the scene very quickly there. We're told the fire broke out around 1:00 a.m. local time. You were there about 1:30 and the fire seemed to have started on the right-hand side of the building. The left side, you say, was OK. We also have Abdullah Barraq Mohidin. Joining us now, another witness who has friends who live inside the apartment block of the Grenfell Tower. Abdullah, just again, you were telling us about the people who were calling for help. What more can you tell us?
ABDULLAH BARRAQ MOHIDIN: I can't believe that no one went in to help them from the beginning because the fire was really small, it wasn't really that major. By then, telling people to go back in their houses and wait for ambulance or firefighters to help them to take them downstairs and then people were going upstairs, like going up to their houses, chilling in their houses, no one left their houses. When the fire went up to the roof of the building, the fire kept going around the building on the left side of the building and then no one, it was no fire people around the building.
They were looking for entrance for the building, telling people, where is the main entrance for the building, so we can't get to them, people. We're thinking like -- people are thinking like, are you OK? This should be your job, you should have a layout before you came here about this building.
WALKER: We do want to update our viewers, Abdullah, if you can stand by for a second. We are also hearing from the Assistant Director of Operations for the London Ambulance Service, Stuart Crichton, and he is saying that they have taken 30 patients to five London hospitals following this massive fire at this apartment complex. The injuries, the extent of the injuries are unknown, but again, 30 people have been taken to five various London hospitals. But Abdullah, as you've been speaking, I know you're quite shocked and frustrated. Do you feel like no one was helping? Obviously, there's also logistical challenges or for firefighters whenever they face a blaze of this size or in an apartment complex like this. Did you have -- did you see people who were escaping, though, and if so, how many people did you see who were able to get to safety?
ABDULLAH MOHIDIN, WITNESS: Sorry?
WALKER: Did you see people evacuate --
WALKER: -- or escape? Can you here us Abdullah? Abdullah?
MOHIDIN: No these people trying -- no as people trying to break their windows to come out. And there was like a woman and her child just there waiting for people to help them for like three hours. And in the end, the fire got to them and you see them skin flame like --
MOHIDIN: For three hours, they're waiting, shouting for help. And it was people else flashing, these people -- people shouting. A kid shouting and screaming, and a small young girl shouting help, help, help, help. And like I see some guy run inside the building, saying, my cousin, my cousin and he went upstairs, yet it took like he saw -- what do you call it? A fireman, yes and he told him, stay indoors, stay indoors, we'll come back and help you, we're going upstairs first here.
And my friend therefore long that, you know, so he just took the family and went downstairs, his cousin and his aunties and that. Like he just go back, but no one helped them, like the whole time, no one went inside to close the fire, no one touch --
JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Right.
MOHIDIN: -- from the beginning.
VAUSE: Abdullah, you say you were on the scene that for --
MOHIDIN: For three hours, it started 1:30 this one -- I've got a video of the fire starting, it was so small, it was so small trust me, I want to pitch (ph) a video of it.
VAUSE: Abdullah, can I ask you this?
MOHIDIN: It wasn't that major.
VAUSE: OK, Abdullah, were you saying there were -- you said you were there when it started and it was a relatively small blaze from what you saw. How quickly did it spread, and from what you can see, did it start on one of the higher floors, or did it started in the lower floors, what did you see?
MOHIDIN: And it started from the lower floors -- the lower floor yes. But it went around the building. it started at one, but it went around the building during two hours to three hours and a half, it went around the building that quick. It just went up in flames so quick to the roof and that (inaudible).
VAUSE: But how quickly -- yes. How quickly Abdullah would you say it went from this small fire to the building being totally engulfed? Was it 30 minutes, was it an hour?
MOHIDIN: Like to -- I would say 45 minutes it get the rest.
MOHIDIN: Fire hit the roof, and then say two hours and a half, it went around the building. And then one side of the building, it stayed for two hours. That's where the people were shouting for help. They stayed for hours and hours and hours and no one really helped. But they could have done something, is what I'm trying to say. They could have stopped it from the beginning, you know.
WALKER: It's obviously what you saw is going to haunt you for some time. Abdullah Mohidin, thank you very much for recounting to us what you witnessed. Obviously horrifying early morning for you as well.
VAUSE: And what Abdullah has been telling us matches what a lot of other witnesses have been saying from the horrific accounts of the residents inside this building, calling for help, being stuck in these apartments, not being able to get out. Some making this horrendous choice of just jumping or falling from the building.
WALKER: Or some who were stuck there for hours, like the other witness told us, that he saw someone almost on the top floor, a man he presumed to be stuck there with the flames surrounding him.
VAUSE: With the firefighters using water cannons to try and keep the flames away from him.
VAUSE: That is the advice, though, which firefighters do give you in a situation like this. If you can't get out, shelter in place because that's the best option you have. Going to the roof is one of the worst options they say, because once you're on the roof, you're stuck, there's no way of getting out until the fire is extinguished.
[01:35:02] Well Abdullah was saying about no one going in, and people being told to stay in their apartments, that's, you know, pretty standard operating procedure for the firefighters --
VAUSE: -- to get there, logistics (inaudible) before they go into a fire, which obviously move so, incredibly quickly. The other thing too Abdullah was talking about was that this is a small fire started on one side of the building, and one of the lower floors. Again, matching a lot of the eyewitness accounts that we've had, and then spreading to the top floor within 45 minutes and around the building after that.
WALKER: Yes, that's pretty quick, especially according to the fire investigator that we've been speaking to for his expertise. And he basically has said that from judging from how fast the flames spread that he doesn't believe that there may have been a functioning sprinkler system or a sprinkler system at all.
Let's head over to Oren Liebermann who has been on the scene for hours now. He's been talking to the people there on the ground, he's been talking to witnesses. He spoke to a woman who was quite emotional, who had been trying to get in touch with a friend of hers. And she still hasn't heard from that friend, has she, Oren?
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not yet, not that she has told us. She last spoke to her three hours ago. Her name was Rose and she lived on the seventh floor of this building. And she spoke to her three hours ago, her friend told her it was getting hot inside as the flame were getting closer and that was the last she spoke with her.
She hopes her friend was able to get out, but has not been able to speak to her since. She fears that somebody others do right now, she fears the worst, that her friend was not able to make it out.
But let me pick up from your last point actually before coming to me, and that's safety concerns here. And that is a concern we've heard from a number of eyewitnesses who either had friends in the building or family members in the building, a concern that the safety measures in the building and the safety implements that is to sprinklers and smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors if there were any, simply weren't enough. And the procedures were in place to get everyone out. Those are the concerns we've heard again and again out here this morning.
A short time ago we spoke with Nick Paget-Brown, he's the leader of the Chelsea and Kensington Council. And we asked him, have you heard these complaints? And he said, look if we've got these complaints they go from us straight to the fire brigade.
And so we asked him, does he have these complaints, and he said, we have to check to see if he's gotten these complaints.
Now we have spoken to people who have family members inside. One is Ayyube Asif who came here, he saw the flames from five miles away. He came here ran inside in the early chaos, the early confusion of this, to help his family members out, his cousins, who live on the 18th floor, he was able to get to them. He said he carried out his nephew, who was having trouble breathing. Here's part of what Ayyube said.
AYYUBE ASIF, WITNESS: I was at my cousin's house before, not this house, another house. And I saw the fire from about five miles away, and quickly came and I didn't see much we're going on by the fire brigade. So it was seem me and my cousins were jumping walls to get to the main entrance of the place. My cousin lives on the 18th floor. So obviously we couldn't go inside. But police wasn't letting us go through. So we had to barge through as the fire brigade went up and see go kids down, I was helping kids, I saw a kid that couldn't breathe properly. My nephew was in there, my cousin was in there, from the 18th floor. And it so -- it was a tragic moment.
LIEBERMANN: Have you heard from your cousins? Have you seen your nephew?
ASIF: Yes, we brought them out, we held them out. And the paramedics took them to hospital. We don't know what's happened at all.
LIEBERMANN: You know your family is safe. What was going through your mind then, and what is going through your mind now?
ASIF: What was going from my mind is just I want to save my family. I saw people jumping out the window, man, it's crazy. Saw people jumping out the window. What was going on in my mind, I couldn't tell you, because that time I just wanted to save my family. My whole family was with us at dinner together.
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?
ASIF: What I've seen is this whole big fire, that's why I seen people jumping out, people running, it's crazy, it's crazy. Before, people wanted to knock this building down, so I don't know.
LIEBERMANN: And why? What was it about the building?
ASIF: I don't know, the insulation wasn't good, that's what I'm hearing, insulation wasn't good.
LIEBERMANN: How long have your cousins lived here and what did they say?
ASIF: Well he's lived here for about five, six years. But the 18th floor, you can't get away from a fire on the 18th floor. By God's grace, they got away.
LIEBERMANN: When you know, you said you were five miles away, that's incredibly far away when you saw the flame. Did you know it was this building?
ASIF: We got a phone call from my aunty saying that there's a fire in the building, but at the time, we didn't know if anyone was in the house. So then we got our phone to see to it in the house but 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 believed was having difficulty breathing. Where are they now and what happens next for your family?
ASIF: Now they're in the hospital getting treatment, hopefully it's the right treatment, but I don't know what will happen next.
LIEBERMANN: Still scared at this point to see a little bit?
ASIF: Of course, of course. Seeing your little cousin with his hands and not breathing properly, it's a mad thing. All my thoughts go out to the people that were --
[01:40:09] LIERBERMANN: You get a sense of how much this meant and how scared everyone is in this neighborhood.
LIEBERMANN: Did standing around us seems terrifying.
ASIF: I mean the whole public was trying to help. You know, just the whole public was trying to go in and help. Me, myself who was jumping, I was jumping the gates to go up when I knew my family's inside. Whoever came, I was just grabbing putting them in the paramedic.
LIEBERMANN: They said the fire spread to the entire building very quickly, is that what you saw?
ASIF: Yes, yes, it spread very quickly, yes.
LIEBERMANN: And I'll point out, that when I asked the number of other people who were just listening to the area, also said, yes, that gives you an idea of how quickly it spread.
ASIF: It started from the fourth floor.
LIEBERMANN: Fourth floor.
ASIF: Fourth floor around 1:30. And it hasn't even ended and it's what 6:00, 7:00 in the morning start ended.
LIEBERMANN: Just about 6:00 and --
ASIF: Yes, and --
LIEBERMANN: How many hours ahead. And your family has to be -- you talk to them again to find out that they're OK, as soon as you can?
ASIF: Yes, soon as possible, as soon as possible. I'm going to find out more.
LIEBERMANN: What about those with you? You're here with the small crows, did everyone try to approach this one?
ASIF: Everyone, everyone. I told my cousins that they help, we actually went past the police. We find we're just jumping over, because at the time, your mind is not thinking right. But it was a bad tragedy.
LIEBERMANN: It seems in control now on the ground in terms of police having blocked off the area, but with your describing is here's the chaos of the first --
ASIF: I was right in front of the blocks and bricks are falling. You can see it right now. It's crazy, crazy. Hard to explain.
LIEBERMANN: And we have just learned from the London fire brigade that 30 flats around that building, there around the Grenfell Tower have also been evacuated because of the extent of the damage around the area. We are not on the side that has seen debris, but we've heard from the number of other including Phil Black and Sam Abdulaziz (ph) that debris has fallen off the building and we've seen it fall off surrounding the other side of the building as the flames spread throughout, destroyed in many ways the facade of the building, leaving it charred and blackened as we see it.
And littering the area around that back certainly some of the reason London -- the fire brigade decided to evacuate 30 buildings, 30 flats in the area for the safety of everyone around. As we've seen roads closed and a very large area cordoned off to allow firefighters to do their best against what has been a tremendous fire here.
I've been here for some three hours, perhaps a little longer at this point. And it is important notes that we have seen the flames dissipate. Earlier, when we are looking exactly were your looking now, we saw flames pouring out of nearly every window. And those were flames weren't pouring out, you could see into the flat and you saw flames on the inside.
That is no longer the case. The flames have dissipated, the smoke have dissipated. And although firefighters started by working on the lower part of the building, we have at times see fire hoses spraying up towards the top part of the building, as firefighters try to get a grip on the plains from all parts.
But as the flames have dissipated, the smoke has dissipated, we've done a clearer view of the facade of the building which is completely burned. A nearly all of the outside, there is only one small bit from the side that I can see, and I can see two sides of the building. One small bit that I can see and I can see two sides of the building. One small building inside but I can see that is not burned, but that's simply the outside of the building. The inside from what we can see has been either completely destroyed or nearly completely destroyed as this fire by all accounts spread very quickly.
Most people saying who were here early on, that it say started fairly low on one side and it spread both up and around the building very quickly. We know from Ayyube Asif who we just heard from, that there were certainly evacuations, some, perhaps even many were able to get out in that initial rush. We fear and we've heard from many others that they fear that there were others who were not able to get out. Either some were told to stay put until it was too late, or others who were simply surrounded by fire from very beginning. That is the very worst fear. It's the update we're waiting for, and at this point, it is the update that has not come yet.
And speaking to the leader of the Kensington and Chelsea Council earlier, he said there are support centers in the area. There is already a community outpouring of support for those in the area. What will be needed in the coming days, certainly a tremendous amount of support and help.
As you mentioned earlier, there are 30 people have been taken to five different hospitals. So it is a tremendous effort both here at the scene behind me to get this fire out, as well as at the hospitals and community centers to get support for those who need it now.
WALKER: Great reporting. We appreciate you, Oren Liebermann, thank you for that. We want to turn it --
VAUSE: So just in regard, point to 30 people taken to hospital, we know some people have been evacuated. We don't know how many.
VAUSE: But we know there's 120 apartments, presumably one or two- bedroom apartments, so clearly it would seem a lot of people remain unaccounted for.
WALKER: Well, Robert Rowe is on the line, he's a fire investigator and president of Pyrocop Incorporate. He's also the former fire marshal of Downy, California.
It's good to have you on, especially with your expertise in fighting these kinds of fires. I have to ask you this question, Robert. When all is said and done, is there any chance that there might still be some survivors inside this building?
[01:45:03] ROBERT ROWE, PYROCOP INCORPORATE PRESIDENT: It's really hard to say. I mean, I don't know how far the fire spread into the building. I don't know if it cut off access points or egress points for anyone that was, you know, up in the upper portions of the tower to be able safely egress out of the building to the staircases.
I don't know that configuration of the staircases, whether or not they were retro fitted with the newer requirements for staircases. It's really hard to say. It's very difficult when you have a fast-moving fire like that, to try to put an estimate of who was able to get out and who wasn't.
VAUSE: Robert, just looking ahead to the next couple of hours, and again keeping in mind that, you know, you're here in California with us, watching this, so we're just calling on your expertise as someone who knows fires in these kind of buildings.
So we're hearing from Oren Liebermann on the ground there that debris continues to fall from this building as it smolders. It all it seems as if this building if it's not, you know, potentially going to collapse, it certainly is crumbling before our eyes. So how does this sort of play out over the next couple of hours? How long will this high-rise continue to smolder, if you like? How long before this fire is put out?
ROWE: Well, it may smolder for several hours, maybe even days. It depends on what materials were burning. You know, and how long those particular materials will sustain combustion in a smoldering state. It's very difficult to say.
I know they'll be, once they are able to extinguish the blaze to a point where they'll able to access to those areas and the term here is called mop-up, where they actually go through each individual apartment and extinguish the smoldering embers. It may take quite a few days to finish that up.
But during that process there is degradation of the structure, depending on, you know, how the building was built. There's going to be materials that are going to be deep-seated. There's going to be, you know, just a lot of materials that are stacked on top of each other, that they're going to have to get down into the seat of that and pull that material away and get water on that. So it's going to be a very long week for firefighters. My hat's off to all of them. They've done a spectacular job at this point, with what they've had. It never ceases to amaze me.
WALKER: Yes, absolutely. Have to ask you, when was the last time, Robert, that you saw a high-rise fire like this, where you have much of the building engulfed in flames?
ROWE: Well, you know, in my career I mean we've had several high-rise fires here in the L.A. area, but as a recently, they had a couple in Dubai. That fortunately was an exterior cladding. The buildings were equipped with fire sprinkler systems, which, in fact, did save hundreds of lives.
In this case, it's still yet to be determined exactly what status was with fire protection systems in this building and if they were, in fact, operational. If they were there at all. And hopefully from this, there'll be a fresh look at high-rise buildings and the need for fire sprinkler systems in those buildings in the future.
VAUSE: There's always reviews under way in the United States. There was a review of fire procedures and safety procedures after 9/11 and the collapse of the Twin Towers, in Britain they've had a number of reviews of procedures and tactics in dealing with fires after a number of high-rise fires there. But Robert, we are also hearing from our witnesses, saying that this turned out to be a fairly small fire that spread very, very quickly. Started in the lower floors within 45 minutes, it had reached the top of the building, and within may be an hour or two, it had -- and there were spread around the building. Essentially I guess what those things in the building was engulfed on all sides within about an hour or two.
Again, from a distance, we know, but what would that tell you about, you know, what is fueling this fire, is that typical of what may have happened in a situation like this? ROWE: Well, with fires of this nature, you know, you're going to have the fuels that are going to be consumed in this fire, but you're also going to have a wind factor. It's going to be -- if there was a prevailing wind on the side of the building where the fire started and the wind is blowing in the direction of the building and it wraps around the building and moves upward, you know, wind has a major -- plays a major role in fire spread.
[01:50:04] Those fires are considered ventilation-driven fires. So the more oxygen and trap there is moving up the building and around the building, that's where the fire is going to continue to move.
So, I don't know what the prevailing wind was for that day, but it appears to me and moving as quickly as it did, there may have been a slight breeze that created a ventilation-driven fire. Once it breaches the building through the windows, it gets to the interior, and it starts to consume the common combustibles within each unit and the fire grows exponentially, up and through the building, through staircases or penetrations in the building. So there's a lot of factors that are going to be looked at by investigators once they get over there, so that they can make a determination on how quickly, why did this fire spread as quickly as it did.
WALKER: Robert Rowe, we really appreciate you sticking with us the last couple of hours and sharing with us your expertise. Thank you very much. You've been really an asset over the last two hours. So, thank you for your time.
VAUSE: Thank you very much Robert.
WALKER: Meantime, let's turn it over to Tia Abrahams, she actually witnessed the fire from just two streets away. Tia, tell us what you saw and where exactly you were.
TIA ABRAHAMS, WITNESS: Hi, well, basically what happened was, I've received a phone call from my friend, because obviously from where the fire had happened, it's literally a two-minute walk from where I live. I ran down to see and it was just when the fire was beginning. You know I -- There was people banging on windows, screaming, crying out for help. There was even young children banging on the windows. It truly was. It wasn't good. By I mean I got there before the fire brigade was even at the scene.
VAUSE: So the people who are banging on the windows, that they were children? What were they just crying for help? Was the fire near their apartments?
ABRAHAMS: The fire was actually right next to where the children were that could be calling right, banging down the window. I mean these were about 4, 3-year-old children who I can imagine didn't understand what was going on. But I mean you could definitely tell that it was them. You could hear people screaming, I mean, even as the fire progressed, you could hear, like screams of agony (inaudible). It was horrible.
VAUSE: Do we know the children got out? ABRAHAMS: Pardon?
VAUSE: Do you know if those children managed to get out?
ABRAHAMS: No, I don't know.
ABRAHAMS: Unfortunately. However, as a couple of hours actually passed, the windows where I did see the children, has -- it was obviously it had been ruined by the fire.
WALKER: Oh, gosh.
VAUSE: Oh, my god.
WALKER: Tia, is anything that you can share with us regarding this apartment building? What do you know about it? We understand that it had been undergoing some major refurbishment, but do you know people who live in there? Do you know about this redevelopment program that happened with this building?
ABRAHAMS: Yes, well obviously in the community that we live in, everybody kind of has a sense of who everybody is, and I mean, I do know, not personally, but I do know a few people who live there. And well who did live there. And, yes, it wasn't very nice.
Only I had been -- I have friends recently that they had been doing refurbishment to the fire and people have (inaudible) but I mean this that you could hear in the background there were people crying about their losses. I see and it's very bad fire.
VAUSE: Tia, you did actually see, you know, at least some people getting out of the building, about those who are in there with their pajamas and that was pretty much it. So what sort of state with those folks in once they actually managed to get out and was anyone there that actually help them?
ABRAHAMS: Yes, there was many people. Literally everyone in the community I see them handing big boxes of water, blanket. They -- A lot of people had to go to the hospital. They were (inaudible) fire the ambulance.
WALKER: Tia, are you there?
WALKER: Hi there. Well it was sounds like we had lost you for a quick second. But Tia where are you now?
[01:55:03] ABRAHAMS: (Inaudible) about five minutes from where the fire happened.
WALKER: Are you -- ABRAHAMS: Actually house of everyone and may have quite run a life from the scene because there was the risk of the building actually collapsing.
WALKER: From where you where able to see, are you concerned about that, especially with the debris? I mean, continuing to fall from the building, is that correct?
ABRAHAMS: Yes. Hello?
WALKER: Hi Tia, Amara Walker here at CNN. Can you hear us?
WALKER: What were trying to ask you is, if you're -- how concerned you are about the integrity of the building, the building possibly collapsing? How much debris have you seen falling from the building?
ABRAHAMS: Yes, I mean, at the moment, the line is actually quite bad. So I can't actually hear you very well.
ABRAHAMS: But I mean, it wasn't very nice at all what happened. So it was actually rather traumatic.
VAUSE: Yes. Tia, thank you for being with us. And clearly you've seen some pretty awful things in the last couple of hours. So have a lot of people around this high-rise fire. Tia Abrahams is there on the line. She's not far from this building. She was there. She actually saw children banging on windows for help. And the fire was right next door to them, and at this point, they are among those who -- those kids are among those who are unaccounted for.
WALKER: And she's not the first witness to say that she's heard people banging on the windows, people screaming for help.
VAUSE: There are some screaming for help.
VAUSE: Others are just jumping from the building, according to nearby witnesses.
WALKER: Yes, one witness told us that they saw some people jumping as high from the 12th and 13th floor. Someone else has said that they saw someone jumping from one of the top floors. So just a really horrific situation. But again, we're following this massive apartment fire, huge fire at a 27-story apartment building in west London. Evacuations are still underway. But it's not clear yet how many people may still be inside that building.
VAUSE: And just to recap some of the details that we know, the fire broke out before dawn. Some say around 1:00 a.m. Local Time, maybe a little earlier. Witnesses have told us about people jumping from the building. Here's some numbers, 45 trucks are on the scene, 200 firefighters also there. 20 ambulance crews as well. We know 30 people have been taken to five hospitals around London. And at this stage, the cause is not known. The number of casualties or fatalities if there are any, and that would be a fairly safe assumption, unknown at this point in time.
WALKER: We're going to take a short break, but of course much more of the breaking news in the next hour. I'm Amara Walker.
VAUSE: I'm John Vause. Stay with us.