LONDON — Tests on the exterior cladding of tower blocks across Britain that use similar material found outside the building in west London where at least 79 people died in a fire have shown that some of them are “combustible,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said Thursday.
May said the tests were being carried out so that “all possible steps to ensure buildings are safe” were taken. Investigators believe that the type of exterior cladding used on the Grenfell Tower after a refurbishment last year may have caused the fire to spread more rapidly than if a different material was used. It had a plastic core.
The fire’s cause has not been established, although investigators suspect it may have started when a refrigerator exploded on one of the block’s lower floors.
There are thought to be approximately 4,000 tower blocks in Britain similar to the 24-storey residential complex in Kensington that went up in flames last week.
May said in an address to Parliament that authorities have been checking about 100 buildings a day and that the results come back within hours. Her office estimated that there are about 600 buildings in Britain that have the same type or similar cladding to that used in Grenfell Tower. However, May said it was still too early to draw conclusions about what caused the fire or why it appeared to spread so quickly.
“I urge any landlord who owns a building of this kind to send samples for testing as soon as possible. Any results will be communicated immediately to local authorities and local fire services. Landlords have a legal obligation to provide safe buildings and where they cannot do that we expect alternative accommodation to be provided. We cannot and will not ask people to live in unsafe homes,” she said.
May’s address came as the chief administrator of the neighborhood where the fire took place resigned Thursday, effectively marking the disaster’s first formal departure of a high-level official in the wake of Britain’s worst blaze in decades.
Nicholas Holgate, chief executive of the Kensington and Chelsea council, said he was asked to leave by May’s government. The initial days after the June 14 inferno were marked by chaos as authorities struggled to deal with the scope of the aftermath.
Residents who survived the tower blaze lost everything, only to get little help or information on how to secure shelter or vital supplies. Of the 600 people who lived in the tower block, many were low-income workers, recent immigrants and refugees.
Researchers at the Universite Catholique de Louvain in Belgium believe the Grenfell Tower disaster is now the deadliest fire in mainland Britain since they started keeping close records at the start of the 20th century. A fire at Bradford City Stadium in northern England on May 11, 1985, killed 56 people.