Questions over estate refurb work after firefighters battle to halt blaze

Buildings in Dartmouth Park Hill burned for four hours

Thursday, 28th June 2018 — By William McLennan

Dartmouth Park Hill fire IMG_9164

The fire in Dartmouth Park Hill

A FIRE ripped through the roof of a council block and left neighbours fearing for their homes as it burned for four hours, leading to fears that the building’s safety had been compromised by recent refurbishment works.

The blaze in Dartmouth Park Hill on Saturday night destroyed two homes and damaged several others. Around 20 residents were evacuated by the fire brigade with neighbours several doors away waiting with their bags packed and fearing the worst as firefighters struggled to contain the flames as they moved through the attic space.

It came exactly one year after 3,000 people were evacuated from their homes in Swiss Cottage after a series of fire safety failings were discovered.

Just 24 hours earlier firefighters had put out a dramatic blaze at the Somers Town Coffee House in Euston. Crews arrived at the scene in Highgate Newtown shortly after 8pm on Saturday and began dousing the fire, but it is believed flames were able to move undetected through the roof.

Heating pipes had recently been installed by council contractors and it is feared that they may have punched holes in the structure of the building, allowing flames to spread through walls that should have acted as a “firebreak”.

Ivan Montes, who lived next door to the source of the blaze, watched from the street as his top-floor flat was destroyed. He had been watching World Cup football at home when he saw smoke and flames coming from his neighbour’s flat.

“We got the cat and we ran out, wearing just shorts and pyjamas,” he said. “I ran to my neighbour’s front door. She was in the entrance and I just grabbed her. “It was impossible to breathe. The air was filled with smoke. I could only see from her legs down.”

Along with his partner, Lakshmi Asensio, they helped alert their neighbours, several of whom are wheelchair users or have limited mobility. Residents praised the “blitz spirit” that brought the neighbourhood together throughout the night. “Everyone has been so helpful,” Ms Asensio said. “People kept coming up and asking if I would like to sit down in their house and have a glass of water.”

Joy Nelson, who lives a few doors from the fire, said the estate caretaker, Richard, had been “marvellous”.

“The firefighters said he was the real hero of the night,” she added. “He was running up and down the road, helping everyone.”

Neighbour Josie Prentice said: “We were all out in the street and we all stuck together as a community.”

Labour councillor Oliver Lewis was on the scene throughout the night, helping to ensure those who could not return home had alternative accommodation.

Betty Gilbert was evacuated on Saturday night, but has since returned home. She said she was “quite angry” about reports on tabloid newspaper websites that the fire had caused a “mass panic”, adding: “That isn’t true. There was no panic.”

The 88-year-old, whose father was an ambulance driver in the Second World War, lived with her parents in Kentish Town as the Germans bombarded London with bombs and missiles. She said: “I think things like that have made me tougher. You learn to cope.”

Highgate Green councillor Sian Berry said: “It does look like it spread through the roof between blocks. That should never be possible. It worries me that the heating works may have made breaches, or there may have already been breaches. This needs to be answered.”

The council’s heating contractors, GEM Environmental Building Services, did not respond to repeated request to comment.

A Town Hall spokesman said: “The council awaits the official fire investigation report.”

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