This picture shows the view looking west from the bedroom window of our old apartment in Notting Hill. I took it at sunset on June 24, 2012.
Little did I know that almost exactly five years later, the 24-story building front and center would become an unbelievable inferno. Yes, that's Grenfell Tower, which made international news yesterday when it rapidly went up in flames, only a year after a £10 million renovation, killing at least 12 people and injuring many more.
When I pulled up The Guardian's web page and saw the news yesterday morning, I was stunned. In fact, stunned is an understatement. I don't recall ever seeing a fire -- certainly not in a residential building -- as large as this one, even on the news. Although the World Trade Center was obviously a much bigger structure, the visual similarities to Sept. 11 -- a tall, blackened, flaming ruin with desperate people waving from the windows -- couldn't be overlooked. All I could do was exclaim, "Holy sh*t!" (Which alarmed Olga.) I mean, I know this building -- Olga and I used to pass beneath it when we strolled over to Latimer Road, one of our regular walking routes from Notting Hill.
I didn't see or smell any evidence of the fire firsthand -- not from where we now live in West Hampstead.
The idea that a newly refurbished high-rise in a country like the UK, with no shortage of building codes and safety regulations and architects and engineers, could not only catch fire but burn as fiercely and extensively and quickly as Grenfell seems impossible. Doesn't it? Earlier London tower fires, like the already legendary Lakanal House blaze of 2009, pale in comparison.
Of course we aren't yet sure what happened at Grenfell. Was it faulty design, faulty construction, faulty materials? A combination of all three? Perhaps cladding, adhesive or insulation was of an improper (and highly flammable) type? An expert in The Guardian said that under current rules, insulation beneath cladding on the exterior of tower blocks doesn't need to be fireproof. I've heard people say the blaze may have been fueled by gas lines. No one really knows.
All I know is, that tower went up like it had been dipped in gasoline. "Like a matchstick," as one of the survivors said. It is a colossal scandal.
Before this occurred, I never would have been hesitant to live in a high-rise. In fact, I kind of wanted to live in one. My friend David lives on a high floor in a building in New Jersey and I've always envied his view. I would have just assumed (foolishly) that modern technology, fire codes and alarms and sprinklers and whatnot would keep me and my neighbors safe.
Now, I'm glad I live on the ground.
Someone has some serious 'splaining to do. And I'm guessing we're going to be hearing about lawsuits and possibly prosecutions for years and years to come.