Inside Housing – News – West London block was undergoing fire safety work at time of blaze

It comes amid a debate about the contribution of combustible insulation to the blaze at Grenfell Tower. 

Expert witness Professor Luke Bisby estimated that the insulation materials only contributed to between 2% and 10% of the fire’s ability to spread, with the majority of the rapid fire spread being driven by the polyethylene in the cladding panels. 

However, he has also stressed that combustible insulation could be causative if used in a different form of construction. 

The London Fire Brigade (LFB) confirmed yesterday that the fire at Stebbing House was caused by the battery of an electric bike. 

The brigade issued an urgent warning about e-bikes, saying it has seen a “huge spike” in such incidents related to electric bikes and scooters this year. 

Charlie Pugsley, deputy assistant commissioner for fire safety at the LFB, said: “When these batteries and chargers fail, they do so with ferocity and because the fires develop so rapidly, the situation can quickly become incredibly serious.

“These items are often stored in communal areas and corridors and can block people’s only means of escape.”

The brigade said there is a particular risk associated with converted bikes – where the electric motor has been added to a regular bike.

It advised that if they have to be charged inside, they should be placed on a hard surface, away from escape routes, in a room with a smoke alarm and only charged when the user is awake. 

The Shepherd’s Bush fire saw eight fire engines and around 60 firefighters attend and guide six residents to safety via an internal staircase. Other residents, including three from the affected flat, had left the building before the fire service arrived. 

The London Ambulance Service confirmed that two patients were assessed at the scene and that another was treated and taken to hospital.

The LFB used new live-streaming technology – 9Eye – during the fire, which allowed 999 callers to stream footage of the incident directly to the call centre. 

This contrasts with the incident at Grenfell Tower, where call handlers did not realise the blaze had spread beyond the fourth floor even after it reached the top of the building, having seen no images from the incident ground.

The blaze came on a busy day for the LFB, which also attended a large blaze at a tower block in east London. In a statement, the LFB said that both incidents “show how far we have come as an organisation” since the Grenfell Tower fire. 

It deployed more than 40 fire engines and 250 firefighters to incidents throughout the day, which also included a pub fire and a care home fire. 

The largest deployment was to the block of flats in Grantham Road, Manor Park, east London, where 15 fire engines and more than 100 firefighters tackled a large fire that damaged flats on the 13th and 14th floors. 

Around 60 people left the building before the brigade arrived. It used its new 64-metre ladder to help fight the fire. 

The ladder is the tallest in Europe and is twice as long as the largest ladder owned by the LFB at the time of the Grenfell Tower fire. 

Images from the scene showed the flames breaking out of a window and licking up the outside of the building to break the window of the flat above and re-enter the building. 

This is an effect well known to fire engineers and can occur in buildings with a non-combustible external facade if the fire is large enough fire. 

The brigade was called to the blaze at 2.47pm and the fire was under control by 4.46pm.

A spokesperson for the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham (H&F) said: “The fire at Grenfell made one thing very clear: just meeting minimum fire standards is not enough. The current national building regulations are clearly not good enough.

“Since 2017, H&F has spent millions to make sure that the three tower blocks on the Edward Woods Estate are as safe as possible. We have gone above and beyond to make these blocks safe for our residents as part of our £20m Fire Safety Plus programme.

“The Stebbing House fire showed that the building worked to safely contain the blaze to a single flat. Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt. The actions of the London Fire Brigade crews were directly helped by the improvements we’ve made to the block.

“Acting on expert advice, we’re planning to make additional enhancements to these tower blocks to make them even safer, including removing the solar panels, upgrading the building’s fabric and removing any UPVC windows. This is part of our continued efforts to exceed building regulations and reassure residents that we’re working with world-leading engineers to keep them safe in their homes.”

The refurbishment project at Stebbing House, which took place in 2012, was reviewed by the London School of Economics in 2012 in a report titled High Rise Hope.

Update: at 10am, 23.6.2022

This story was originally published yesterday, before being temporarily removed from view when more information about the building safety issues at Stebbing House was brought to Inside Housing’s attention. The story has been republished with the new information included, as well as the LFB’s warning about electric bikes.

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