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London tower fire death toll increases to 12; number expected to continue to rise

Key Points
  • 12 people have died and at least 74 more have been injured after a massive fire ravaged a block of flats in central London.
  • "I have never ever seen anything of this scale," said London Fire Brigade Commissioner, Dany Cotton.
  • More than 200 firefighters, 40 fire engines and over 100 medics were sent to the location to tackle the flames.
  • Witnesses reported residents in the burning tower block tried to throw their children to safety.
London fire rages through tower block
London fire rages through tower block

The death toll of a massive fire that raged through the night at a 24-story block of flats in central London on Wednesday increased to 12, authorities said. They expect that number to continue to rise, saying earlier that at least 74 more people were injured and some residents were trapped inside the towering inferno.

London Fire Brigade reported over 200 firefighters tackled the flames through the night, with 40 fire engines also sent to the north Kensington tower block.

More than 74 people were injured and taken to hospital following the blaze at Grenfell Tower, where several hundred people lived. London police said they expected the death toll from the tower block fire to rise as emergency services continued to search the building.

One woman lost two of her six children when trying to escape in the early hours of Wednesday morning, while others tried to throw their children to safety, witnesses said.

"Our thoughts are with everyone involved in this truly shocking fire at Grenfell Tower," Stuart Cundy, commander of the Metropolitan police, said on Wednesday morning.

British media reported that residents had become trapped in the upper floors and were desperately screaming for help as the fire spread through the building. The tower block contains around 120 homes.

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"At this time I am very sad to confirm that there have been a number of fatalities, I cannot confirm the number at this time due to the size and complexity of this building," Dany Cotton, commissioner of the London Fire Brigade said on Wednesday morning.

"This is an unprecedented incident. In my 29 years of being a firefighter, I have never ever seen anything of this scale," she added.

The fire was first reported shortly after 1.15 a.m. BST.

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London ambulance service reported at around 11.45 a.m. BST that 64 patients had been taken to hospital following the incident at the Lancaster West Estate.

"Following this morning's fire at Grenfell Tower, West London, we have treated and taken 64 patients to six hospitals across London, where 20 people are currently in critical care. Our thoughts are with everyone affected," Paul Woodrow, director of operations at London Ambulance Service, said in a statement.

A further 10 people were said to have made their own way to the hospital, taking the total to 74.

Number of fatalities in Grenfell Tower fire: London Fire Commissioner
Number of fatalities in Grenfell Tower fire: London Fire Commissioner

The cause of the fire remains unknown at this stage, the Fire Brigade said. However, local media reports suggest that witnesses at the scene have pointed to a faulty fridge as the cause of the fire.

Samira Lamrani, who lives on nearby Hurstway Walk and was present at the scene, told the Press Association that a resident said he had called the emergency services after his fridge caught fire. He is thought to have lived on either the second or fourth floor, though the reports are yet to be confirmed.

"When I arrived on the scene he (the resident) was amongst the people that were standing there," Lamrani said.

"He was just beside himself. He was just as surprised at how quickly the fire spread as anybody else.

"I could hear him saying that he contacted the emergency services immediately and they reassured him everything would be under control within a short period of time, and obviously it wasn't."

London's Fire Brigade Commissioner told reporters that while the building appeared to be safe for crews to work in, a structural engineer is continuing to monitor the safety of the tower block.

"At the moment the building continues to be safe for our crews to go and work in," Cotton said.

Warnings of fire risk 'fell on deaf ears'

A huge fire engulfs the 24 story Grenfell Tower in Latimer Road, West London as emergency services attended in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Epics | Getty Images

An action group at the west London tower block had repeatedly warned of a fire risk and suggested a similar incident was narrowly avoided after a power surge in 2013.

The Grenfell Action Group claimed their concerns were dismissed by Kensington and Chelsea council, which owns the block of flats, as well as the local tenant management organisation (KCTMO) which runs the borough's homes.

"All our warnings fell on deaf ears and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time," the Grenfell Action Group said in a blog post published Wednesday.

Kensington and Chelsea council were not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC on Wednesday morning.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said questions would need to be answered in the aftermath of the fire at Grenfell Tower which has killed several people.

Further to the frequent blog posts from the Grenfell Action Group, residents reportedly claimed they had been advised to stay in their flats in the event of a fire.

When Khan was asked about these concerns in an interview with BBC radio, he replied, "These questions are really important questions that need to be answered".

He added, "Across London, we have many, many tower blocks and what we can't have is a situation where people's safety is put at risk because of bad advice being given or if it's the case, as has been alleged, of tower blocks not being properly serviced or maintained."

- CNBC's Karen Gilchrist contributed to this report.

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