London fire
© Barry McGrath/Twitter
Residents trapped in a tower block this morning screamed for help from balconies as a blaze ripped through their building - with many only becoming aware of the fire via WhatsApp messages.

More than 125 firefighters in 20 vehicles spent hours battling the inferno and rescuing a host of people - including a small toddler - at New Providence Wharf, near Canary Wharf, in east London today.

Two men were taken to hospital after being exposed to toxic fumes, while a further 38 adults and four children were treated at the scene for shock and breathing in smoke.

But many families weren't alerted to the blaze by the fire alarm for more than half an hour, with one homeowner claiming they only noticed when they woke to the smell of smoke, while others were completely oblivious to the danger until messages started appearing in a neighbourhood group chat. Others found out via the news.

A witness, who lives in the building opposite, said: "Fire services used a drone to assess the damage before going into the building.

"It was a terrible response - they were tripping over their hoses and all. I think they were just panicking, if I'm honest. The window frames started falling out and landed on one of the firemen.

"They had to hose him down because he caught fire. It took nine fire engines before they got the ladder up to."

london fire cladding
© @Facebook/Dimple Unalkat
London apartment building fire
© UKNewsinPictures
The fire at the 19-storey building was brought under control around lunchtime, and residents have now been allowed to return to their flats following a mass evacuation over fears the structure could collapse.

However, the fallout from the scare will rumble on over the coming days as it emerged the building was covered in the same cladding blamed for the Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017 - despite locals' desperate pleas dating back several years for it to be removed.
london apartment fire
© Barry McGrath/ Twitter
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said it had 'repeatedly' met development bosses to 'urge action'.

Developer Ballymore confirmed today, however, that the ACM cladding on the building 'did not combust and played no part in causing or facilitating the fire'.

Comment: So it didn't combust in this instance, but it could have combusted?

Parts of the eighth, ninth and tenth floors sparked alight just before 9am, as dozens of firefighters scrambled to the block of apartments, which overlook the River Thames and the O2.

A large part of the facade is now black from the damage, while a ground-floor home has also reportedly been destroyed.

Furthermore, residents claimed it took firefighters around 20 minutes to start hosing down the block because they had to swap trucks.

The cause of the fire is not known at this stage.

Approximately 22% of the building's facade features ACM PE cladding panels, which were found to be a key factor in the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017.

Work to replace the cladding was 'under way' and the main contractor had been due to take possession of the site on Monday, according to building developer Ballymore.

But campaigners and local politicians have long issued warnings and called for it to be removed, after ministers pledged £200m for the aluminium composite material to be taken out from 170 privately-owned towers across the UK two years ago.


'I opened my front door and saw a lot of smoke in the corridor and so slammed the door.

'I have two guinea pigs - Norman and Theo, so I grabbed them and ran out of the building. There is no way I'm leaving them behind.

'A security guard was running up the stairs to try and alert people.'

She added: 'I served in the army for three-and-a-half years so I thought I would be okay, but my legs were shaking because of the cladding we've got on the building.

'It's the same as Grenfell. I know that because we get letters every month from Ballymore saying they are going to start removing it.

'They were suppose to start in April on blocks A to C, but they didn't because of Covid.'

'There were no alarms going off until I got down to the fourth floor - which is crazy.'

Marlene Morais, 42, a fashion designer, said: 'I live in a building next door and saw a lot of police cars and ambulances, storming in.

'A fire truck crashed into a mental railing on the roundabout because they were in such a rush.

'I went out of the building and could see all these people running and shouting.

'I could see all the smoke coming from the building and a little bit of fire.

'The Fire Brigade put a ladder all the way up - I think it was like the eighth floor.

'They were stood on top of the ladder spraying water onto the flames.

'I saw all the fire people coming in and out and there faces were all red from the heat.

'There were some people wearing green, so there was a few casualties.

'I was imaging all the people above who could have been sleeping or maybe they fainted because of all the smoke.

'It was really scary, I had to take my child to her dad's because she doesn't want to be here and see all this.'

Resident James, 33, added: 'I didn't know at first, when I opened my window this morning I could see and smell the smoke, it was thick black smoke, even at the side of the building, where I live.

'In that kind of situation you think, run, instantly, I'm on my own in this flat, so I had no one to get, I was out of there really quickly.

'But what I don't get is that there was no alarm, no alert, had I not opened my window I might not have clocked it.

'I'm not sure what's going to happen, or how my flat looks, but I know for sure some people are going to be very unhappy and devastated when they see the damage to their flat.'

A further witness told MyLondon: 'Journalists knew what was going on before we did.'

Another added: 'That's the thing, there was no alarm or notification. We shouldn't be learning about this from the news.'

Ballymore had previously said it would begin the work on site in April but frustrated locals did not see action prior to the fire starting.

Survivors and bereaved relatives from the Grenfell Tower fire told the Government 'enough is enough' after today's blaze.

Grenfell United said in a statement: 'We are horrified by the news of the fire at the New Providence Wharf today. When will the Government take this scandal seriously? Enough is enough.

'The Government promised to remove dangerous cladding by June 2020 - it has completely failed its own target and every day that goes by lives are at risk. Today more people have lost their homes in another terrifying fire.

'The Government needs to treat this as an emergency and stop stonewalling residents who are raising concerns. No more games, no more excuses.'

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: 'The spectre of the tragedy at Grenfell still hangs over our city. Today we have seen again why residents in buildings with flammable cladding are living in fear.

'It is vital that Government, developers, building owners and regional authorities work together to urgently remove the cladding from every affected building.'

Meanwhile, the Fire Brigades Union said today's blaze 'should shame this government' and warned the 'glacial' pace of removing such cladding is 'putting lives at risk'.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: 'It is extremely alarming to see another high-rise building in the heart of London light up in flames.

'A huge thank you to the firefighters who responded and got the fire under control so quickly and our thoughts are with all of those affected.

'It should shame this government that four years on from Grenfell there are people across the country living in buildings wrapped in flammable cladding.

'Time and time again we've warned that another Grenfell could be just around the corner unless they prioritise making people's homes safe.

'The pace of removing flammable cladding has been glacial and it's putting people's lives at risk.

'The government must intervene and take quick and decisive action to end our building safety crisis once and for all.'

A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: 'We thank the emergency services for their work to extinguish the fire in New Providence Wharf.

'As we await their report on the cause of the fire it is too early to speculate, but we are working closely with the London Fire Brigade.

'The building has received £8m government funding to remove unsafe ACM cladding - this work was set to take place on Monday and we have been in regular contact with Ballymore over the last two years to make progress, including publicly naming Landor, their subsidiary, as one of the companies that has consistently failed to take action. Ministers have met Ballymore repeatedly to urge action.

'We are spending £5bn to fully fund the replacement of all unsafe cladding in the highest risk buildings and are making the biggest improvements to building safety in a generation.

'It is essential that building owners take swift action to remediate defective cladding and the government will fund every eligible application.

'Workers are on site in 95% of buildings identified as having ACM cladding at the beginning of 2020 and we expect that work to be completed at pace in the coming months.'
London apartment fire canary wharf
© Peter Macdiarmid/LNP
The local MP for Poplar and Limehouse, Apsana Begum, said on social media how she recently met constituents at the block, who told her they felt 'unsafe' for more than two years, without receiving reports or surveys.

She also called on the developer to urgently address the situation, amid claims from locals that the building's 'waking watch' - a person patrolling all floors and external areas to give warning in the event of a fire at the cost of £47,000 a month - failed to take action in time.

The Labour MP told the Evening Standard: 'For years now, constituents at New Providence Wharf, where there are 1,500 apartments, have been left vulnerable and unsafe due to numerous fire safety and building safety defects and that ACM cladding remains on these buildings.

'The fire this morning shows just how serious this issue is and why constituents have been right to continue to raise alarm bells for so many months. My thoughts are with all my impacted constituents during this incredibly difficult time.

'The developer Ballymore have promised action but to date, constituents have not received information on fire engineer reports and details of any remediation works.'

A spokesman for Ballymore said: 'Thanks to the rapid and professional response of the London Fire Brigade the fire was quickly contained, with all residents evacuated from the building in a timely manner, in accordance with the building's fire safety protocols.

'Due to the fire brigade response and to the performance of the fire safety systems on the building, the fire damage was contained to one apartment and to two balconies of apartments above.

'Although we expect most residents to return to their homes this evening, Ballymore is providing accommodation in a nearby hotel for those who require it.

'We understand how difficult and distressing today has been for our residents and we are grateful for the patience they have demonstrated. Our response team on the ground will continue to support them in any way we can.

'The cause of the fire has yet to be determined and we continue to work closely with the London Fire Brigade during their investigations.

'We can however confirm that the ACM cladding on the building did not combust and played no part in causing or facilitating the fire.

'Enabling works to remove the ACM cladding have been underway for two weeks prior to today's incident. The works will recommence as soon as possible.'

The developer told the East London Advertiser earlier this year: 'To replace elements of a facade under these circumstances is an extensive process.

'We have a project team in place which has already committed months of work to arrive at a workable and cost-effective solution.'

The project was described as being 'well underway' and the company anticipating at the time that work on site would begin around April.

However, MailOnline understands the main contractor was only due to begin removal of the cladding this coming Monday.

The End Our Cladding Scandal campaign group tweeted: 'We hope all victims of the fire in New Providence Wharf are okay.

'Grenfell was almost 4 years ago. How is it acceptable that works on some of the UK's most dangerous buildings haven't even begun?'

'It's only a matter of time before this happens again.'

The block is part of the New Providence Wharf development, described as 'a riverside community of more than 1000 luxury homes'.

Estate agents add: 'Each home in this nine-story tower boasts an unparalleled view of some of the Docklands most celebrated landmarks including Canary Wharf and the O2.'

Pictures and videos on social media show part of the building engulfed in flames, with thick grey smoke pouring out of the block, several stories high.

The fire comes just days after the Government's post-Grenfell fire safety regulations, which campaigners argue could leave leaseholders paying tens of thousands of pounds to remove cladding on their buildings.

Earlier this year, Housing Minister Robert Jenrick was accused of a 'betrayal of homeowners' when he confirmed they will get billions of pounds of taxpayers cash to replace dangerous cladding - but only if they live in the tallest buildings.

The cabinet minister unveiled the long-awaited £5billion scheme for victims of the cladding scandal that emerged in the wake of the 2017 Grenfell Tower disaster.

But he revealed that only buildings above 18m tall - or six storeys - would have the cost of replacing the outside of the building covered by the Government.

The 19-storey tower block in east London is therefore covered by this, but there was outrage from campaigners as it emerged people living in shorter buildings will have to pay for the repairs themselves using a 'long-term, low-interest' loan scheme that will cap their costs at £50 a month.

But the loan will remain with the property rather that the leaseholder, raising fears it will affect their ability to later sell it.

Additionally they and hundreds of thousands of people in the high-rise blocks will still be left to pay for other defects they did not cause. Many of the firms which applied the cladding have gone bust since Grenfell and will not have to pay a contribution.