Every Grenfell Tower resident ‘could have escaped in seven minutes’

Every resident of Grenfell Tower could have fled the fire in seven minutes if they were told to leave as soon as it took hold, an expert has said.

The stairwell of the 24-storey block was relatively safe for over an hour after fire broke out at 12.54am, Professor David Purser told the inquiry into the tragedy.

And though it was narrow, each one of the estimated 293 residents could have quickly got down it and out to safety – even if they all left at once, he said.

But they were told it was safer to stay put and the order to evacuate did not come until 2.47am, by which time the stairwell was filled with toxic fumes.

Prof Purser, an expert in toxic hazards and human behaviour in fires, told the hearing: “At Grenfell we have means of escaping, but we also have the ‘stay put’ policy.

“If everyone went into the stair at once there would physically be enough space for everyone to get down together and for people to move freely.

“They could have all got down there in seven minutes if they each entered the stairwell at the same time… if there had been means to alert them to evacuate, for example, a tower alarm.”

Prof Purser walked from the top to the bottom of the tower in three minutes 30 seconds as part of his probe, aged 73 and in heavy protective clothing.

He added: “Up to about 2am the stairwell was reasonably safe. Some time after 2am… if occupants attempted to evacuate they were exposed to high concentrations of smoke, carbon dioxide and possibly cyanide.”

But it was “not impossible” to use it throughout the night, some doing so as late as 8am.

However, some did not reach the stairwell as lobbies on each floor filled with toxic smoke from burning furniture around 1.30am, the inquiry heard.

The fire claimed 72 lives in the West London tower in June last year.

But Prof Purser said: “There is a strong possibility those who died did so from smoke ­inhalation rather than burning.”

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