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Upper Clapton fire: Police say blaze 'suspicious' but people demand answers after wooden cladding deemed safe

PUBLISHED: 10:35 19 September 2019 | UPDATED: 18:34 23 September 2019

Firefighters tackling the blaze in the Upper Clapton block. Picture: Ciara Lawless

Firefighters tackling the blaze in the Upper Clapton block. Picture: Ciara Lawless

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People are demanding answers after their Upper Clapton block it went up in flames months after bosses deemed there was no "unacceptable" fire risk.

Limehouse Lodge as it looks days after the fire that destroyed balconies. Picture: Adrian ZorzutLimehouse Lodge as it looks days after the fire that destroyed balconies. Picture: Adrian Zorzut

A woman was rescued by firefighters as a blaze tore up the balconies at the side of the block in Harry Zeital way overlooking Millfields Park on Monday night.

The building is covered in wooden panels, the safety of which has repeatedly been called into question by residents since before the Grenfell Tower tragedy - there had been a fire at a neighbouring block with the same design in 2015.

Police are investigating the cause of the fire, which they have called "suspicious", and local police said on Twitter today it was an arson attack.

Witnesses say flames ripped up the side of the building in "two minutes".

Bella Phillips. Picture: Adrian ZorzutBella Phillips. Picture: Adrian Zorzut

In June a fire risk assessment carried out by London Fire Consultants and Design Associates Ltd for Taylor Wimpey found the walls "do not pose an unacceptable risk of uncontrolled fire spread".

The morning after the fire, Vestra Property Management, which manages nearby Altius One, wrote to their leaseholders saying bosses had spoken to the London Fire Brigade about replacing the wooden facade. The firm said inspections of its building were due to take place this month anyway in response to concerns raised by residents. They do not manage the block where the latest fire started.

The letter states: "A large project to replace it is likely and all leaseholders will be updated once the data and information has been concluded."

Teacher Bettina Moore, 50, lives in a fifth-floor apartment metres from the cladding that caught fire - but her alarm did not go off because she's officially in a different block.

The view showing the proximity of the fire from Bettina's window. Picture: Adrian ZorzutThe view showing the proximity of the fire from Bettina's window. Picture: Adrian Zorzut

"I woke up and heard someone, who I later found out was a young teenage boy, screaming 'get out! get out! I left in a hurry and realised I didn't even have any shoes on," she told the Gazette.

Bettina has lived there for 10 years and said she and others had raised concerns about the fire risk posed from the timber cladding and been told time and time again that it was safe.

In response to the risk assessment findings in June she said: "They've told us many times that the cladding is alright but I think the jury's still out."

She also said two people looking to buy flats in the block had their mortgages rejected because of the fire cladding, a similar situation to one at the council's flagship Kings Crescent Estate.

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Producer Bella Phillips, 23, has lived in a second story flat facing the internal court yard with her partner for seven months.

She said: "I looked at how small the firemen were and how big the fire was and I thought ' how are they going to put this thing out'.

"There was a real sense of community. People came out from other blocks and people in their boats gave us tea and drinks.

"I have never felt so close to my community."

Another email from Vestra states that leaseholders will be expected to contribute to the cladding replacement, and reveals they are still paying for the costs of the fire in 2015.

"Last night is a reminder to all that they must comply with the lease and ensure that no items are left on the balconies," the email states.

"Also common sense needs to prevail if people smoke. It simply cannot happen. 5 years back there was a huge fire at Aster Crt, worse than last night which was caused by the discarding of a cigarette.

"As a result of the fire all leaseholders to this day are paying the price insofar as the block insurance policy due to the £400K it cost to rectify. Thankfully no one was hurt back then."

Twelve fire engines and some 80 firefighters were sent to the scene at about 10.40pm.

Videos posted on social media show the fire spreading up the face of the building as people scream: "Get out!".

The blaze damaged a fifth-floor flat and the roof of the block, and crews in breathing apparatus lead a woman to safety from the first floor. Luckily, no one was injured but some people were forced to move to emergency accommodation while an investigation is carried out.

Hackney Council said most people would be returning home yesterday, but those whose homes were damaged would be rehoused while repairs are carried out.

Hackney mayor Phil Glanville praised firefighters for their bravery, but said it was too early to speculate on the cause of the fire.

"We will work with all involved to support the investigation and any implications that may come from it," he said.

Lea Bridge's Cllr Ian Rathbone said there would be a public meeting in the coming weeks to discuss the issues, to which agencies involved in the building would be invited.

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