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Flammable cladding, exposed gas pipes, no fire doors - why fire brigade evacuated fire trap Chalcots estate

PUBLISHED: 07:24 24 June 2017 | UPDATED: 11:25 01 June 2018

Residents leave a tower block on the Chalcots Estate  as the building is evacuated  Stefan Rousseau/PA

Residents leave a tower block on the Chalcots Estate as the building is evacuated Stefan Rousseau/PA

Exposed gas pipes and inadequate fire doors are just some of the reasons in addition to the flammable cladding that the London Fire Brigade ordered the immediate evacuation of the Chalcots estate last night.

The move left hundreds of families, with newborn babies to a Second World War veteran, feeling angry and confused forced to spend the night on a mattress on the floor of Swiss Cottage leisure centre and facing a scramble for temporary accommodation today.

The shock move comes after cladding used on the high rises failed safety tests and was discovered to be flammable - similar to that used on the Grenfell Tower, in West London, where 79 people are confirmed to have died after the blaze spread through the building.

In a statement explaining the sudden decision taken on a Friday night after a week of toing and froing, the London Fire Brigade said:

“London Fire Brigade have been working at the Chalcots Estate with Camden Council.

Residents leave the Taplow tower block  Stefan Rousseau/PA WireResidents leave the Taplow tower block Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

“Following extensive joint visits and inspections the Brigade advised that there were a number of fire safety issues in the buildings and recommended that residents should not remain in the buildings until these issues are resolved.”

Among issues identified were a lack of insulation around gas pipes.

Camden council tweeted: “Decant was essential. @LondonFire identified issues around gas insulation & other concerns which with along with cladding issue means unsafe.”

Waiting for a minibus to take her family to a hotel six miles away, Zega Ghebre, 42, said the situation was “unbelievable”.

“I’ve got three children, an 11-year-old, a nine-year-old boy and a one-and-a-half year-old girl, she’s a baby.

“We couldn’t pack anything because we didn’t know where we are going, but hopefully we will get back,” she said as she stood outside Swiss Cottage Library, one of the emergency shelters in the shadow of the blocks.

She added: “We have been offered a hotel in Wembley now. Hopefully it won’t be long. If I’m there for weeks I don’t know how I’m going to deal with it.”

Earlier 94-year-old Peter Bertram, a former RAF aircraft hand and a resident of the estate for 46 years, said he was “shocked” by the ordeal.

He said: “It was a rush, I didn’t know anything. My neighbour told me ‘get this and that’. It happened so quick, I don’t have the energy for that now. It’s an experience, but it’s getting settled in again though.”

Renee Williams, 90, who has lived in Taplow tower since 1968, told the Press Association: “No official came and told us what’s going on, I saw it on the TV so I packed an overnight bag.

“But now they’re telling us we’re going to be out of our homes for the next two to four weeks.

“It’s unbelievable. I understand that it’s for our safety but they can’t just ask us to evacuate with such short notice. There’s no organisation and it’s chaos.”

As all the blocks were being evacuated Camden then decided that residents in one of the blocks, Blashford, could remain put.

Estate resident and Former Ham&High receptionist Pamela Gunsell added: “Go, leave, go leave. The latest at gone midnight is that Blashford residents can stay but disruptive work will be carried out during the night. Tonight is not about the cladding. Points were flagged up last night at the big meeting in the Library, and Camden have investigated and acted on their findings. Hats off to them; but most of us heard it from other sources. I heard it from a friend in Turkey.”

“I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision, and yes its disruptive; but a small price to pay for the awful possible consequences. Don’t forget what happened last week, God rest their souls. Another terrible disaster like that we definitely don’t want to see again.”

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