Probes launched amid search for London fire victims

Associated Press

London — London firefighters combed through a burned-out public housing tower Thursday in a grim search for missing people as police and the prime minister launched investigations into the deadly inferno, with pressure building on officials to explain the disaster and assure that similar buildings around the country are safe.

At least 17 people were killed as flames raced through the 24-story Grenfell Tower early Wednesday, trapping people inside their apartments. Many people remained unaccounted for Thursday, and officials weren’t sure exactly how many were missing. But they expected the death toll to rise significantly.

London Police said an investigation had been launched to determine whether the blaze involved any crimes and Prime Minister Theresa May announced a public inquiry, a type of probe that’s used to investigate issues of major public concern. In addition, London Mayor Sadiq Khan called for an interim report on the fire to be published this summer.

“People deserve answers. The inquiry will give them that,” said May.

An angry crowd confronted Khan as he visited the high-rise.

“How many children died? What are you going to do about it?” asked 7-year-old Kai Ramos. As the boy pressed, the Labour politician pledged to get answers.

The tower is in the North Kensington neighborhood, a working-class, multi-ethnic area next to some of the richest neighborhoods in Britain. Some observers asked whether hazards in the Grenfell complex, which had 120 apartments that housed as many as 600 people, were ignored because its residents are mainly poor.

Fire safety engineers were stunned at how rapidly the fire spread, engulfing the building in less than an hour in the middle of the night and preventing firefighters from reaching many people inside.

Some parts of the tower were unsafe for firefighters to enter Thursday, so the fire department worked with structural engineers to shore it up so crews could conduct thorough searches for victims, Cotton said. Specially trained dogs were being brought in to aid the search. Police were unsure whether they would even be able to identify everyone.

In addition to those killed, ambulance crews took 74 people to hospitals after the fire. Thirty were still hospitalized on Thursday, with 15 in critical condition.

Authorities have refused to speculate on what could have started the blaze. But the focus has turned to renovations completed last year that added decorative touches to the building.

The project included installing insulated exterior cladding, double-glazed windows and a communal heating system.