Locals claim new cladding installed on the 24-storey “death trap” property just a few months ago could be behind the speed at which the fire ripped through the building.
A lack of fire alarms, sprinklers and exit points also contributed to the fatalities, distraught residents told HuffPost UK on Wednesday.
The blaze broke out in the 1974-built, home to hundreds of people, shortly after 1am.
In November 2016, the Grenfell Action Group wrote that “only a catastrophic event” would expose issues residents faced at the 24-storey building.
Last year a two-year £8.6m refurbishment was carried out at the tower, which was part of a wider transformation of the estate and a £57m borough-wide regeneration.
New exterior cladding was put up, double glazed windows were added, along with a communal heating system.
Samira Lamrani, 38, who lives near to Grenfell Tower, said the building was an “accident waiting to happen” as there were allegedly not enough sprinklers and fire alarms.
She added that the cladding may have “exacerbated the fire”.
Mohammed Jamal, 27, lives nearby and said that on each landing of the destroyed building there was a plaque which instructed residents “in a fire emergency don’t leave your homes”.
“People listened to that and stayed in their homes. The emergency services were telling them verbally to stay in their homes but we were telling them to get out, the whole building is on fire,” Jamal said.
“You could see the blaze following the line of the panelling up the building. It was just raining debris.”
Locals said the construction of the new Kensington Aldridge Academy, which opened in September 2014, led to the regeneration of Grenfell Tower, which included the installation of cladding.
Jamal said the access to the Grenfell Tower is “terrible”, blaming the narrow roads and bollards for slowing down the emergency service response.
“Gaining access to the building is very limited. There’s gates and bollards and there’s a T junction road and lots of green space so a fire truck would never be able to get in.
“On top of that the roads here are very narrow so the fire trucks got stuck.
“They are saying 200 firefighters were fighting the blaze but many were not over there [at Grenfell Tower] because their trucks had to park up a few roads away.
“Access to the building is terrible. Even the walkways are separated between the buildings so you cannot walk from side to the other.”
A resident who lives in one of the neighbouring buildings, told HuffPost UK: “There is one entry point, there’s no sprinklers and no fire alarm.”
She added: “We don’t know why the fire started, that can happen in life but the number of casualties didn’t have to be so high.”
Another angry resident said there was “one way in and one way out” of the building, asking: “Where is your escape route? The fire went up in minutes.”
She added: “The firemen couldn’t even get in. They called the riot police so they could be shielded.”
The project, which was designed and delivered by KCTMO in partnership with Rydon Construction, was said to have been complex, as it took place while all 120 flats were occupied.
Rydon issued a statement on Wednesday saying it was “shocked to hear of the devastating fire” adding that their work “met all required building control, fire regulation and health & safety standards”.
Rydon added that it would cooperate with the authorities and that any further comment would be inappropriate.
The cladding was installed at a cost of £2.6m by specialist facades contractor Harley Facades Limited. The company has referred inquiries about the fire to Rydon.
Mike Penning, former Tory minister and ex-firefighter, suggested on BBC Radio 4’s World At One that the external cladding may have been a factor.
“I have never seen a tower block fire move so fast in that sort of way, and from a very low vantage point as well,” Penning added.
“So the source of the fire will be very interesting when the investigators do that and what was the cause of the initial fire, whether it was electrical or, sadly, even criminal activity.”
But Andrew Goldman, director of Rydon, told Good Morning Britain there was no known link currently between the fire and the cladding.
“All the materials that we used and the procedures we put in place follow health and safety guidelines,” he said.
“These things are signed off by the relevant authorities to make sure they comply.”
Jack Monroe, who used to work for the fire service, listed a number of concerns regarding the devastating fire overnight, including why a high rise building wrapped was in cladding.
Images of panels being burt off have been circulating online.
Speaking of the emergency service response, Lamrani added: “They were trapped in that building from 12.30am to 5am.
“The fire brigade - sometimes they were just standing around. They have equipment to access buildings but it was just horrific. The police officers didn’t know what to do.
“They [the residents] were told not to leave the building because the lift was out of order and the stairs were consumed with smoke. It sounds like it was the wrong advice given.”
Describing the scene she encountered when she approached the building, Lamrani said: “People were locked inside the building and they were not able to get out.
“They were stuck inside. The building’s windows cannot open fully because of safety. People were frantically screaming, banging for help.
“At one point there was a baby thrown out of a window and captured with a blanket. A gentleman ran forward and just caught the baby with a blanket.
“We could see it all unfolding from the first 20 mins onwards. It was horrific, it was like something out of a horror movie. You could see people on all floors banging for help.
“The screams were horrendous to listen to. The kids, mostly, I could hear the echoes of the children’s voices pleading for help.”
Robert Black, chief executive of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO), said in a statement: “The fire at Grenfell Tower is devastating and the reports of injury and losses of life absolutely heartbreaking.
“Along with my colleagues, I have been supporting residents since the early hours, working with the emergency services and the community.
“Respite centres are at Latymer Community Centre, St Clement’s Church, Harrow Club and Rugby Portobello Trust. The Casualty Bureau Number is 0800 0961 233.
“Currently we’re focussing on helping those residents and London Fire Brigade is investigating the safety of the tower’s structure but we will issue a further statement in due course.”
TMO has been contacted regarding claims that new cladding was responsible for the spread of the fire and accusations there was no working fire alarm or sprinkler system in the property.
Hamda Ali, who lives near to the flats, got to the scene at about 1am, just minutes after the blaze erupted.
“The people trapped in the flats were screaming and crying for help. It was very, very sad, she told HuffPost UK.
“The entire building doesn’t have an alarm and the fire brigade were telling people not to come out.
“I saw people jumping from the top floors without anything because the only way out was down the stairs, which has a gas pipe next to it.”