Grenfell survivors tell how they ignored advice to 'stay put'

One resident tells inquiry he passed firefighters as he fled down tower stairwell and was told to go back up

Two residents of Grenfell Tower who managed to escape the inferno that consumed the building ignored advice to stay put in their flats, the inquiry into the disaster has heard.

Miguel Alves, who lived on the 13th floor of the highrise in North Kensington, told his children to leave the building and banged on neighbours doors to tell them to escape after seeing smoke as he returned to his flat.

He said he thought there would have been enough time for firefighters to clear the highrise before the fire spread.

A second survivor, Shahid Admed, who lived on the 18th floor, also ignored advice to return to his flat - despite it coming directly from firefighters. Ahmed decided to leave after his kitchen window exploded.

Both men’s accounts came on the second day of evidence from local residents to the Grenfell inquiry.

Appearing in person on Thursday, Alves said he was aware of a safety advice plaque that recommended that residents stay indoors if there was a fire, but he ignored it completely.

“On my mind it was to save myself,” Alves, originally from Portugal, said. “Because if [there was] fire on the fourth floor [and] I’m on the 13th floor it’s like a trap.

“Why should I be in the trap when I have the opportunity to come out? This was something that was straight in my mind.”

CCTV screengrab shown before the inquiry of Alves exiting a lift at Grenfell Tower on the night of the fire.
CCTV screengrab shown before the inquiry of Alves exiting a lift at Grenfell Tower on the night of the fire. Photograph: Grenfell Tower Inquiry/PA

Alves knocked on the door of the five other flats on his floor despite fearing that they might be annoyed to be woken up. Asked why, he said: “It was my duty to help my neighbours, because they are my family; the people that live on my floor is like my family.”

Alves, who also submitted a written statement in addition to his oral evidence, said he and his family watched as flames spread to the top of the tower within 15 minutes. Burning cladding dripped “like plastic rain”, he said.

He continued in the statement: “Looking at the fire on Grenfell Tower, it seemed clear that the fire brigade should have gone to the top of the tower, knocked on all the doors and got people out.

“There was still enough time to evacuate the building and it was clear the fire could not be stopped and that this was the only choice.

“It was out of control within minutes and I could see the fire hoses could not reach high enough and could not stop it.”

Ahmed, the founder and chair of Grenfell Tower Leaseholders Association (GTLA), who had previously raised concerns about the building’s safety, told the inquiry he passed firefighters as he fled down the single stairwell.

“I remember saying to one of them: ‘There’s a fire upstairs,’ and they told me to go back up,” he said in a written statement. “They had masks on. I couldn’t see their faces.

Ahmed told the inquiry that he had initially dialled 999 after hearing fire alarms and seeing a fireball “the colour of a burning sunset” climbing the building. But before speaking to an operator, decided to end the call and escape.

He said he was glad he did not get to speak to an operator, as he “might have been told to stay put” in his flat as other residents who reached emergency services were advised.

The fire, which spread through the 24-storey Grenfell Tower on 14 June last year, claimed 72 lives, with the devastation widely blamed on flammable cladding put up around the building as part of a refurbishment.

The inquiry at Holborn Bars in central London is hearing from survivors, relatives and friends of those who died, and nearby residents.


Damien Gayle

The GuardianTramp

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