London apartment tower fire triggers emergency inspections, evacuations

The deaths of 79 people in a London apartment tower have triggered emergency inspections, evacuations and soul searching among British officials who failed to prevent the tragedy.

But fire-safety experts say governments and builders around the world should take notice, because the fire at Grenfell Tower is just the latest in a string of deadly blazes that demonstrate how building regulations have failed to keep up with changing materials and cuts in inspections and oversight mean problems aren’t spotted until it is too late.

The Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, California, made headlines in December, when 36 people were killed in a warehouse that had been illegally converted into living spaces and a music venue. In September, 33 people died in a fire at a packaging plant in Bangladesh.

“They are a collective example of how, either intentionally or accidentally, the fire prevention and protection system has been broken,” said Jim Pauley, president of the National Fire Protection Association, which develops fire codes used in the U.S. and around the world. “A system that the public believes exists and counts on for their safety — through complacency, bad policy and placing the economics of construction over safety — has let them down.”

The aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire shows that the faults that led to the disaster are not isolated.

The government is scrambling to test panels similar to those used at Grenfell Tower, and has found at least 75 buildings covered in similarly flammable material. Thousands of people have been evacuated from four high-rises in north London after inspectors found fire-safety problems, including faulty fire doors. The city of Birmingham has decided to install sprinklers in all its public housing towers — four years after coroners investigating deadly fires suggested this be done throughout the country. (AP)

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Specialists abseil down the side of Bray Tower

Specialists abseil down the side of Bray Tower to check the cladding, on the Chalcots Estate in north London, Britain, June 27, 2017. (Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters)

Residents leave their home on the Taplow Block

Residents leave their home on the Taplow Block on the Chalcots Estate on June 26, 2017 in London, England. Residents of the Chalcots Estate have been urged to leave their homes due to fire safety fears in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Four of the five Chalcots Estate towers in Camden, North London, are being evacuated after they were found to have similar cladding to that on Grenfell, attributed to contributing to the rapid spread of the blaze last week that killed at least 79 people (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Specialists abseil down the side of Bray Tower Residents leave their home on the Taplow Block

Specialists abseil down the side of Bray Tower to check the cladding, on the Chalcots Estate in north London, Britain, June 27, 2017. (Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters)

A woman is helped with her belongings from the Burnham Tower

A woman is helped with her belongings from the Burnham Tower, part of the Chalcots Estate in the borough of Camden, in London, Monday, June 26, 2017. The apartments were evacuated after fire inspectors concluded that the buildings were unsafe because of problematic fire doors, gas pipe insulation, and external cladding similar to that blamed for the rapid spread of a fire that engulfed Grenfell Tower on June 14. (Photo: Frank Augstein/AP)

Workers remove cladding from Whitebeam Court, in Pendleton, Manchester

Workers remove cladding from Whitebeam Court, in Pendleton, Manchester, Monday June 26, 2017. The list of high-rise apartment towers in Britain that have failed fire safety tests grew to 60, officials said Sunday, revealing the mounting challenge the government faces in the aftermath of London’s Grenfell Tower fire tragedy. (Photo: Peter Byrne/PA via AP)

A woman carries a dog from the Dorney Tower

A woman carries a dog from the Dorney Tower residential block, as residents were evacuated as a precautionary measure following concerns over the type of cladding used on the outside of the buildings on the Chalcots Estate in north London, Britain, June 25, 2017. (Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters)

Safety equipment is checked at the Dorney Tower

Safety equipment is checked at the Dorney Tower residential block, after residents were evacuated as a precautionary measure following concerns over the type of cladding used on the outside of the buildings on the Chalcots Estate in north London, Britain, June 26, 2017. (Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters)

Two men carry a television set from the Dorney Tower

Two men carry a television set from the Dorney Tower residential block, as residents were evacuated as a precautionary measure following concerns over the type of cladding used on the outside of the buildings on the Chalcots Estate in north London, Britain, June 25, 2017. (Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters)

Workmen inspect safty equipment at the Dorney Tower

Workmen inspect safty equipment at the Dorney Tower residential block, after residents were evacuated as a precautionary measure following concerns over the type of cladding used on the outside of the buildings on the Chalcots Estate in north London, Britain, June 26, 2017. (Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters)

Police officers walk outside Dorney Tower

Police officers outside Dorney Tower, part of the Chalcots Estate in the borough of Camden, north London, Sunday June 25, 2017. The apartments were evacuated after fire inspectors concluded that the buildings were unsafe because of problematic fire doors, gas pipe insulation, and external cladding similar to that blamed for the rapid spread of a fire that engulfed Grenfell Tower on June 14. (Photo: Tim Ireland/AP)

A man carries a mattress from the Dorney Tower

A man carries a mattress from the Dorney Tower residential block, as residents were evacuated as a precautionary measure following concerns over the type of cladding used on the outside of the buildings on the Chalcots Estate in north London, Britain, June 25, 2017. (Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters)

The sun glints off a window in the Dorney Tower

The sun glints off a window in the Dorney Tower residential block, from where residents were evacuated as a precautionary measure following concerns over the type of cladding used on the outside of the buildings on the Chalcots Estate in north London, Britain, June 25, 2017. (Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters)

People carry personal possessions from the Dorney Tower

People carry personal possessions as they leave the Dorney Tower residential block, as residents were evacuated as a precautionary measure following concerns over the type of cladding used on the outside of the buildings on the Chalcots Estate in north London, Britain, June 25, 2017. (Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters)

A woman flashes a ‘victory’ sign at a window in the Burnham Tower

A woman flashes a ‘victory’ sign at a window in the Burnham Tower residential block, as residents were evacuated as a precautionary measure following concerns over the type of cladding used on the outside of the buildings on the Chalcots Estate in north London, Britain, June 24, 2017. (Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters)

A resident is evacuated from the Burnham Tower

A resident is evacuated from the Burnham Tower residential block as a precautionary measure following concerns over the type of cladding used on the outside of the building on the Chalcots Estate in north London, Britain, June 24, 2017. (Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters)

Residents are evacuated from the Taplow Tower

Residents are evacuated from the Taplow Tower residential block as a precautionary measure following concerns over the type of cladding used on the outside of the building on the Chalcots Estate in north London, Britain, June 23, 2017. (Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters)

Residents are evacuated from the Dorney Tower

Residents are evacuated from the Dorney Tower residential block as a precautionary measure following concerns over the type of cladding used on the outside of the building on the Chalcots Estate in north London, Britain, June 24, 2017. (Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters)

Residents are evacuated from the Taplow Tower

Residents are evacuated from the Taplow Tower residential block as a precautionary measure following concerns over the type of cladding used on the outside of the building on the Chalcots Estate in north London, Britain, June 23, 2017. (Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters)