WEDNESDAY 6 JUNE 2018
Grenfell: The First 24 Hours.
"I was in the kitchen and I phoned my son. I tried to talk but there were no words coming out of my mouth. He was thinking I was in trouble, [as if] I was having a heart attack, but then he was hearing the fire alarm at the same time. I was thinking of my family - I cannot be roasted, I cannot die in here, I have to get out of here." - Resident Clarita Ghavini, rescued from Grenfell Tower.
This special one-off documentary marking the first anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire tells the story of the disaster from the moment it began until the flames were finally brought under control 24 hours later.
Produced by Mentorn Media, who made last year's Inside London’s Fire Brigade documentary series for ITV & STV, the hour-long film focuses on the survivors' stories, by using first-hand eye-witness accounts of those living in and around the tower, as well as their personal footage captured on the night to piece together the timeline of the tragic events.
Starting at the first report of the blaze at 00:54 on Wednesday 14 June 2017 and continuing through to the moment the London Fire Brigade got the fire under control 24 hours later, the documentary provides a vivid insight into the tragedy by piecing together survivors' stories with those of onlookers and those involved in the fire and rescue operation.
For the first time, a firefighter who rescued nine people from the burning tower talks in detail about his experience of entering the inferno on a search and rescue mission. Others recount emotional memories of extreme acts of bravery by members of the public and firefighters as the horror unfolded.
Grenfell Tower resident Alison Moses recalls the moment she learned about the fire that had broken out in her block, which initially seemed a mundane occurrence. She says: "I was about to go and turn the TV off, but then the door knocked, so I've got up I've looked through the spy hole, and I saw my next door neighbour, so I opened the door and he said to me, 'There’s a fire.'"
A few fire engines turned up to the initial call, but it became apparent as residents began to evacuate that fire was spreading up the building. In just minutes the fire climbed almost to the top on one side of the tower. People started to appear at the windows as more fire engines arrived. Local resident Sammy Wordy says he felt powerless as he heard a woman screaming from the tower. He says: "I could hear other voices but her specific voice was ringing out at the time more than anyone else's for me. I could see her through the window, but we were powerless to do anything. Those screams will haunt me forever."
Inside Grenfell Tower, as the fire worsened some residents realised they could be trapped. Clarita Ghavini says: "First I went to the front door and I opened it. And it's just black, pitch black, too much smoke pushing me in. So I shut the door straight away very quickly."
When she finally decided to get out, she was found by fellow resident Branislav Lukic, known as Luca, who decided to help. He describes how he picked her up to carry her out: "At some point on the way down we heard some noise… I opened the door and a small Filipino lady was on the other side. She was frightened, she was frozen, she was crying, choking. I managed to carry her over [my] shoulder and down the stairs. It's probably only a couple of minutes but each minute is like an hour."
In the meantime, firefighters were attempting to put out the blaze and rescue the residents. Aldo Diana was one of them, asked to rescue people trapped on high floors. He describes the scene on the emergency staircase: "The staircase itself was only, you know, 3 foot wide... You've got heat, thick smoke, people in shock, people suffering smoke inhalation, some people suffering burns, some people in a state of panic."
As the fire raged, the rescue teams searched the building floor by floor. Mr. Diana describes the scene inside the tower, looking out. He says: "All the windows had melted, and we went quite close to the edge and it just didn't seem real, because inside was devastation, when you looked out it was just normal life, a normal view. Buildings, trees, the sky. You could see planes going across. There was traffic on the motorway, on the A40 - so all seemed to be normal."
But as the blaze was put out and the blackened hulk of the building was damped down by firefighters, the scale of the human tragedy that had unfolded became clear. Nabil Choucair raced to the tower from his home in East London after his sister Nadia, who lived on a high floor with their mother, her husband Bassem and their three children, alerted him to the fire. He says: "Around 3:41am, she sent a message saying, 'Hi Nabil, there's a fire in my building and I just wanted to tell you, okay. Goodbye.'"
But Nabil was stopped from entering the building. His relatives died, and he tells the programme: "The family that I lost was half of my life. Can't tell you how much I miss them. Doesn’t feel the same anymore without them. Half of your life is gone and it's not the same. It’s not the same ever again.”
Grenfell: The First 24 Hours airs tonight at 21:00 syndicated on ITV & STV.