Consequences of Camden fire could have been so much worse

THE Camden fire was bad enough, but it could have been so much worse. At a little after 7pm on a Saturday night, the fairly deserted area where the fire caught hold is a very different place to how it appears just a couple of hours earlier, when tens of t

THE Camden fire was bad enough, but it could have been so much worse. At a little after 7pm on a Saturday night, the fairly deserted area where the fire caught hold is a very different place to how it appears just a couple of hours earlier, when tens of thousands of people fight for space and there is very little room for manoeuvre.

Had the fire broken out at 5pm, who knows what the consequences would have been. The fire might have been spotted and brought under control much earlier, but that eventuality could not be guaranteed in all circumstances. In an area which at times becomes a seething mass of humanity, and where there is no shortage of inflammable materials, the public's safety should be paramount.

With the benefit of hindsight, many people in positions of authority are now stating the obvious - that the layout and design of the fire scene created a classic 'accident waiting to happen' scenario. It all sounds sadly like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. If that is the case, why was the market allowed to function in this way?

This newspaper has never been supportive of overbearing health and safety measures which restrict freedom and treat sensible adults like imbeciles, but in places where thousands of people converge, it is important that detailed and sensible risk assessments are undertaken.


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Traders are being reassured that the affected area will be rebuilt and this presents an obvious opportunity for a redesign that is more cognisant of the safety factors that should always apply when large groups of people are gathered together in one relatively small place.

No-one wants to rob the market of its robust, bohemian and often carnival-like atmosphere, but let's not forget that in addition to traders losing their livelihoods, some residents have lost their homes and everything they own. It is hard to expect them to take comfort from the fact that they were fortunate to have escaped with their lives.

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Sadly, it is usually par for the courses that people who are responsible for ensuring the public's safety can become so obsessed with trivia that they fail to see the bigger picture. Here was an occasion where serious questions would now be asked of them had a single human life been lost.

Fortunately - and it is only through good fortune - this was not the case on Saturday night in Camden, though it so easily might have been.

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