Many London High-rise Dwellers Evacuated for Safety

Several residential high-rise buildings in London are being evacuated because of fire safety concerns following a huge blaze at an apartment building that killed at least 79 people last week.

The London borough of Camden said it was providing hotel rooms for residents of 800 apartments in high-rise buildings in the area known as Swiss Cottage, after fire authorities said they would be unsafe in case of fire. The buildings evacuated Friday are all part of government-run, low-cost public housing developments, as was the one that burned last week.

The Camden buildings have the same combustible exterior insulation that was on the Grenfell Tower, scene of last week’s deadly blaze. The 23-story tower block, in a different neighborhood of London, was quickly covered in flames and choking black smoke after a small refrigerator fire spread to the exterior cladding, fire officials have determined.

The British government estimates up to 600 other high-rise buildings in the country could face the same problem as the Swiss Cottage towers.

Authorities say people displaced from their apartments probably will not be able to return for several weeks, while the buildings’ exterior coatings are removed and replaced.

The Grenfell Tower blaze is the subject of a criminal investigation, London police spokeswoman Fiona McCormack said Friday, with officers “looking at every criminal offense from manslaughter onwards.”

The concrete apartment building had been extensively renovated recently, with the work including a new coating of exterior insulation. Some survivors of the fire claim that cheap materials were used for the cladding; others contend substandard maintenance practices also were responsible for the disaster.

Investigators have traced the source of the fire to a refrigerator in one of the fourth-floor apartments. The particular model of that Hotpoint-branded appliance has not been sold for at least five years; spokesmen for the manufacturer, which is owned by the U.S. firm Whirlpool, said they were addressing the matter and cooperating fully with the official investigation.

Police spokeswoman McCormack said the exterior insulation on the ill-fated building failed safety tests meant to measure its flammability. Investigators also have been checking on companies that installed the material, both at Grenfell Tower and other locations in Britain.

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