The Independent London Newspaper
17th July 2018

The 60-hour blaze: Firefighters were tested by 'complex layout' of converted flats in Finchley Road

    The 60-hour blaze: Firefighters were tested by 'complex layout' of converted fla

    The Finchley Road fire ripped through a language school converted into nine flats

    Published: 29 October, 2015
    By WILLIAM McLENNAN

    ATTEMPTS to control a fire which destroyed a five-storey building and caused days of traffic disruption were hampered by the “complex layout” of the nine flats recently built above the ground-floor shop, the New Journal has learned. 

    Around 70 firefighters fought to stop the blaze in Finchley Road, Swiss Cottage, when it began shortly after 6am on Monday morning.

    Last night, 60 hours later, crews were still dampening down the building after one of the longest operations of its kind since the Camden Market fire in 2008.

    The blaze is believed to have begun in the ­electrical repair shop, PhoneRepairs4U, and slowly spread through the homes of 25 people, although the cause is still being investigated.

    Residents of the block at first thought the fire was confined to the lower levels and that their flats on upper floors would be saved, but 12 hours later, despite the presence of 

    10 fire engines and tonnes of water, they watched their homes burn. 

    London Fire Brigade said on Monday that the “incident is protracted due to the complex layout of the building”. 

    A senior firefighter told the New Journal: “It was very difficult. They were separate residential properties, but were all inter-connected through voids and through the walls. The fire literally got into the walls and the voids between the floors and ceilings and travelled its way around the building. 

    “The fire was moving through unseen voids, which is very difficult to predict.”

    They said that had it been one large open space, the fire would have been easier to deal with. 

    The New Journal has learned that during building works in 2010, extra rooms were created as the upper four floors were divided into nine flats, with a total of 12 bedrooms. 

    Plans for works show that single large spaces were subdivided into bedrooms, bathrooms and living rooms. A central entrance hall was built on each floor, connected to a communal stairwell. 

    Before the conversion, the first and second floors had been home to the Edgware College language school, while the third and fourth floors were written off as vacant office space. 

    Damian Otwinowski, who said he had lost “everything I had” in the fire, was left asking how it was able to develop. 

    He said: “I don’t understand how, from the ground floor, within 12 hours, with 12 units of the fire brigade and tonnes of water, how this could spread without being contained. It’s just beyond me and I’m very disappointed.”

    Bestway Group, the cash-and-carry wholesalers who also boast a £500million property portfolio, own the building at 235-237 Finchley Road, which is known as Akeman House. They successfully won permission from Camden ­Council to carry out the conversion in 2009 and now serve as landlord to the 25 people left homeless by the fire. 

    They arranged hotels for those affected this week and are facing the prospect of massive works to restore the building. Victims of the fire were told on Tuesday that the single staircase had been “compromised” and they would not be able to return. 

    A spokesman for ­Bestway Group said: “Our major priority was the safety of our tenants and we have made every effort to temporarily re-house those affected by the blaze.”

    He added: “The Finchley Road building is subjected to all appropriate health and safety inspections and the window and glazing followed specifications from the local authority. The building was renovated almost six years ago and turned into flats with full planning consent and compliance to all building regulations of the local council.”

     

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