Victims of Finsbury flat block blaze slam London Mayor’s cuts to fire service

MP Emily Thornberry and Cllr Paul Convery visit residents and assess the damage at Kestrel House

MP Emily Thornberry and Cllr Paul Convery visit residents and assess the damage at Kestrel House - Credit: Archant

Victims of a raging inferno which ripped through a block of flats have united in sending a message loud and clear to Mayor of London Boris Johnson – “Abandon cuts to our local fire stations.”

More than 100 residents were evacuated from Kestrel House, Finsbury, on Monday night as the blaze on Clerkenwell Fire Station’s ground – which is earmarked for closure – engulfed a seventh floor flat.

A 44-year-old man whose home was 75 per cent consumed by flames was seen screaming for help by witnesses from his flat window as the blaze took hold.

He suffered burns to his arms and was rushed to Royal London Hospital. Another woman in the flat was treated for smoke inhalation along with ten other residents.

The blaze has renewed calls for local fire stations not to be axed after Clerkenwell and Kingsland crews attended the scene – both planned for closure as part of £45million London Fire Brigade budget cuts.

Clerkenwell-based fire fighter Neil Walker said the situation post-cuts would have been a lot worse, with fire engines taking longer to reach incidents.

He said: “When they are coming from further afield they’re taking longer and longer to get back up, so the fire could have spread further again into more flats.

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“We were lucky no one died, it was pretty bad. There’s no guarantees we’ll be this lucky when the cuts take place.”

An investigation has been launched following the fire in Pickard Street at about 9.45pm. Eight fire engines, 58 fire fighters and three ambulances attended the scene.

Clerkenwell was already attending another fire meaning Islington crews could make it to the block of flats quicker.

Aaron Bolger, 27, and partner Samantha Weller, who live in the flat directly below, had brought their one-day old baby home from hospital just hours before the blaze broke out.

Mr Bolger said: “We first heard banging on the recorder we have to monitor the baby. So I went to check and as I’ve turned round I just saw a load of smoke coming past the window.

“I opened it and saw the guy from the flat above leaning out and shouting and screaming for help.

“He said he couldn’t get out. It was horrible and terrifying. The smoke was coming out from behind him.

“I think it’s disgusting they’re talking about closing fire stations when you’ve got things like this happening.

“We’ve just got our baby and you don’t want to think what kind of danger your family might be in if we start cutting services.”

Jenny Logli, 46, who lives in the flat above, had her electric taken out by the blaze. She said: “I was in bed and the wall behind the bed started making a crackling and a sizzling noise.

“So my husband got up and we went into the hall where we started smelling smoke and then got out.

“I was told they would have been several minutes longer with the other fire station gone.

“They have saved my flat here and I think they have saved lives. Any longer and we may have had people seriously ill or dead.

“The whole thing was terrifying, but the firemen were brilliant and helped get all the young children and everyone to a safe place and got the fire under control really quickly.”

A spokesperson for Mr Johnson said: “These proposals may mean a slightly smaller estate, but they also include bigger, more efficient and well equipped modern stations.

“While it’s right that tough decisions have to be made in times of economic uncertainty, the Mayor is resolute that any agreed proposals will not reduce the capital’s fire cover and target response times will be protected.”

Islington Council’s cabinet member for community safety, Paul Convery, who assessed the damage on Tuesday with MP Emily Thornberry, said: “What this goes to show is that cuts to our fire service are wrong. Our firemen do a fantastic job and incidents like this show that local fire stations save lives.”