Residents evacuated and 20 fire engines called to blaze in Whitechapel high rise

The fire in Whitechapel Pic: PA Media

A fire broke out in a high-rise block of flats and offices in Tower Hamlets this afternoon.

London Fire Brigade said that it was called to the Relay Building on Whitechapel High Street at around 4pm.

Twenty fire engines and around 125 firefighters were deployed to the scene, where crews tackled a fire in a flat on the 17th floor of the 21-storey building. Residents were evacuated safely and there were no reports of any injuries.

Footage from the scene showed bright orange flames burning through a floor of the building as glass panels and other debris fell off the side.

A number of residents told the PA news agency that they could not hear any fire alarms sounding on the floors of their flat during the incident and were alerted to the fire by word of mouth.

A woman on the 17th floor of the building was rescued from the fire by firefighters using an escape ladder, the tallest firefighting ladder in Europe.

Tallest fire fighting ladder in Europe Pic: London Fire Brigade

Station Commander Chris Jenner, who was at the scene, said: “This was a dynamic and visible fire with our 999 Control Officers taking more than 50 calls in the early stages. A woman was trapped by the nature of the fire on the 17th floor. She was given fire survival advice by control officers until firefighters located her. Fire crews used a fire escape hood to help lead the woman to safety via the internal staircase.

“Around 60 people evacuated the building with others remaining in their unaffected flats. We mobilised a 64-metre turntable ladder to the scene. This is the tallest firefighting ladder in Europe and allowed us to get water onto the fire from outside the building.

“The professionalism, hard work and quick actions of control officers and firefighters limited the damage to the block and prevented serious injuries.”

The fire burning through a floor of the building Pic: PA Media

Lynn Ling, a London School of Economics student from China who lives on the 20th floor with her husband Yuri, described the incident as “very scary”.

Ling, who was wearing a silver security blanket because she forgot her coat while being evacuated, told the PA news agency that she was alerted to the fire by a friend who FaceTimed her from the street at about 4:30pm.

She said: “I did not hear an alarm. I think there was a fire alarm on the ground floor but I could not hear it clearly on the 20th. I went out of my door but I found there was smoke in the corridor so I went downstairs. I forgot to take my coat. It was very scary.”

She added that a fireman on the 19th floor was knocking on people’s doors to tell them to leave. “He said: ‘Don’t be scared’,” she added. They were trying to protect us. He was nice.”

The 25-year-old said that when she was on her way down, a group of firemen “were about to go upstairs”. Ling said she did not know what had started the fire, and added that she was “very worried” about their possessions.

Her husband, Yuri, said that they are unsure if they will return to their flat tonight and that will stay with a friend.

London Fire Brigade (LBF) was called to the Relay Building in Whitechapel High Street shortly before 4pm on Monday after a fire started in a 17th-floor flat.

LBF said a woman was trapped by the blaze and firefighters rescued her by using a fire escape hood.

The brigade also took one patient to hospital and crews checked a small number of people at the scene.

Andrew Meikle, 58, who has lived in the 22-storey building for about five years, said the residents had complained several times about both the alarms and the “stay put” policy to the three different companies that manage the building.

He said: “There have been complaints about fire alarms, the “stay put” policy and the high risk of fires on the wooden balconies, and guess what was burning today? The wooden balconies.”

He added that with three different companies managing different parts of the building, there was a “scrambled” chain of communication when it comes to their complaints.

Meikle said there had been previous small fires including one in December where the fire alarms were also not heard.

“When the “stay put” policy fails alarms should be put in to tell people to get out,” he said.

“Why is someone running around banging on doors saying ‘get out, get out get out’ or a WhatsApp group telling the residents that there is a fire, the evacuation process we had?”

The building’s outlook in the aftermath of the fire Pic: Istvan Hubman

Younus Hussein, 61, who lives on the seventh floor of the building, said he also did not hear any alarm.

“If I did not hear the persistent knocks of my neighbours, I would probably still be asleep,” he said.

On the building in general, he said: “There are consistent problems with electricity, flooding, the alarms.”

“For the last eight weeks I have had no electricity in my bathroom,” Mr Hussein said, adding that he has been back and forth with Network Housing about how it is not simply a matter of changing the lightbulb.

“I’m a widower, I live of my own, I’m asthmatic. It is a f****** disaster. I had to lose work today, they are not going to pay me for the fire,” he said.

London Ambulance Service advised people in Whitechapel to keep their windows closed and stay indoors as fire crews battled the blaze. “We were called at 4:07pm today to reports of a fire at a high-rise building on Whitechapel High Street.

“We sent an ambulance crew, an incident response officer, a team leader in a fast response car and members of our hazardous area response team. We are working closely with our emergency service colleagues, more updates to follow. If you are in the local area, please try and stay indoors and keep windows and doors closed.”

Road closures put in place by the police in Whitechapel High Street. Pic: Istvan Hubman

Road closures are currently in place, with the AA stating that the A11 Whitechapel High Street is closed both ways from A13 Commercial Road to Old Castle Street. It adds that Commercial Road has also been closed.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he is in “close contact” with London Fire Brigade’s Commissioner Andy Roe.

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