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'A Number Of Fatalities' In Massive London Building Fire


There has been a devastating fire in London. The blaze engulfed a 24-story apartment building in west London overnight. At least 50 people have been sent to the hospital with injuries. There have been fatalities. Because the fire spread quickly in the middle of the night, many in the neighborhood fear the worst. For more, we turn now to NPR's Frank Langfitt.

Frank, where are you? And what are you seeing?

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel. I'm in the Kensington-Chelsea area. This would be maybe a mile or two east of Notting Hill, which people would know from that Hugh Grant movie.

And the building - as you mentioned, it's 24-stories high, and it's just completely charred. There's still smoke coming off of it. It's all blackened. Recently, I was just looking up at it, and you could still see flames inside. Most of it - what we understand is the firefighters - rescuers, really - have made their way up to the upper floor so far, perhaps not yet to the top.

MARTIN: Have you been able to talk to people?

LANGFITT: We have. I talked to a man named James Wood (ph). He's a graphic artist who lives nearby. He said the fire - he was alerted to the fire around 12:30 in the morning. And he said what he saw when he came out is there were - the fire was on the lower floors. And here's what happened next.

JAMES WOOD: All of a sudden, it just went all the way to the top. And then it started moving inwards. So it was kind of impossible for firemen to get up there to rescue people, but impossible for people to get out.

LANGFITT: And James says as he was looking higher up in the floors, this is what he also saw.

WOOD: We saw children crying at the window. They were clearly unable to get out. And then within minutes, the whole room was up in flames.

LANGFITT: The children that you saw in the windows, how high up were they?

WOOD: On lots of different floors.

MARTIN: It's horrible to hear that. Do we have any idea, Frank, at this point, how many people were able to escape from that building?

LANGFITT: We don't know. The local rugby club here is tending to survivors. There was another witness that I talked to, and he and others have said they saw people jumping out of the windows from high floors, and they don't think - they were so high up. They don't think they probably would have been able to survive the fall.

MARTIN: Oh, my. Is there any idea, at this point, about the cause of this fire?

LANGFITT: We don't know yet. But there's a lot of anger in this neighborhood, Rachel. These are what are called council estates. They are public housing here. Even though parts of this area are very wealthy, parts of it are not. And the management of this building and others was actually outsourced to a private management company, and there are a lot of complaints in the street today that the management company did not look after fire safety codes.

That man, James Wood, you just heard a moment ago, he lived in another public - piece of public housing here that was managed by the company. He said he's been complaining for six months that his fire alarms don't work. So I - you can expect that there's going to be a big investigation once we find out how many people have passed away in this fire.

MARTIN: NPR's Frank Langfitt speaking to us from the scene of a high-rise apartment fire in west London. Dozens and dozens of people have been injured and sent to the hospital. Authorities have confirmed that people have died in that fire. There have been fatalities.

Frank, thanks so much for talking with us.

LANGFITT: You're very welcome, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.