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A retired judge, Sir
Martin Moore-Bick, has been appointed to head the official inquiry into London’s
Grenfell Tower fire in which at least 79 people died, while the police say they
are investigating any criminal offences that may have been committed.
The deadliest ever fire
in a tower block (or blocks) was the result of the terrorist attack on New York’s
World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001, which cost more than 2,300 lives, but
the worst accidental fire was probably the one that raged through the 25-storey
Joelma office building in Sao Paulo, Brazil on 1
February 1974. (Grenfell Tower had 24 storeys.)
blaze happened just a few weeks after the disaster movie, The Towering
Inferno, was released, and it became known as ‘the real Towering
Inferno’. It was started by
an electrical fault on the 11th floor, and spread rapidly
thanks to the ready availability of combustible materials such as paper,
plastics and wooden walls and furniture.
When the blaze began, there were more
than 750 people in the building. More than 170 fled to the roof, but the heat
and smoke foiled a helicopter rescue, and about 40 were killed jumping down or
trying to get to firemen’s ladders out of reach below them. Altogether up to
189 people died.
When oil tankers crash in poor
countries, people often rush to the scene to gather the spilt fuel, often with
lethal results. That happened again this week after a tanker crashed on the
outskirts of the city of Bahawalpur in Pakistan on Sunday.
It is reported that the vehicle
overturned on a sharp bend after the driver lost control when a tyre blew. A
crowd of 500 had gathered to try to collect fuel in bottles, cans and
household containers when, about 45 minutes after the crash, the tanker
It took firefighters two hours to
put out the blaze. Twenty children were among the 146 dead, and another 80 people
were injured. One local man said he had lost 12 relatives.
Probably the deadliest tanker crash
ever happened on 2 July 2010 at Sange village in South Kivu in the Democratic
Republic of Congo. The vehicle overturned as it was overtaking a bus on a dirt
road. Again local people rushed to collect the spilt fuel, and a lighted
cigarette caused an explosion, killing at least 230.
For the story, see my post of 7
July 2010. See also my posts of 1 February and 12 October, 2009, and 13 July
This month’s forest fires in
Portugal, which killed 64 people, were the worst in the country’s history. Most
of the deaths happened in Pedrógão Grande in the centre of the country when flames
swept across a road filled with people trying to escape in their cars.
More than 1,700 Portuguese firefighters
fought the blaze along with others from Spain, Morocco, Italy and Canada. Although
most reports point to a thunderstorm as the cause, there have been some claims
that it was arson.
Probably the deadliest forest fire
ever happened in the USA, in Wisconsin on 8 October 1871. It began in the woods
after a long dry spell, but was carried on the wind to Peshtigo and other nearby lumber towns on the banks of Lake Michigan, where the sawdust that always
clogged the streets provided convenient fuel for the flames.
Peshtigo was burned to the ground,
and more than 1,150 people were killed, but because it happened on the very
same night as the Great Chicago Fire, it has tended to be rather forgotten.
For the full story, see A Disastrous History of the World. See
also my posts of 7 February 2009, 3 July 2013, and 7 May 2016.
Drawing heavily on my book Britain's 20 Worst Military Disasters (The History Press), Forces Network's new account of these two two battles of the Medway can be found at http://www.forces.net/news/money-root-all-evil-and-defeat
The first in AD43 was the decisive battle of the Roman conquest, happening somewhere near where the M2 bridge now crosses the river. It may well also have been one of the two biggest battles ever fought on British soil
After two days of fierce fighting (highly unusual in those days), the Romans managed to force their way across the river. British resistance continued for a time, but soon the Emperor Claudius was able to take the surrender of eleven British kings.
The second in 1667 saw the Dutch sail up the Medway and burn the British fleet. An important factor was a government austerity programme that saw sailors left unpaid, though there seemed to be plenty of money for King Charles II's mistresses.
For the full story, see my book Britain's 20 Worst Military Disasters. See also my posts of 14 and 23 November 2011.
I have always seen Brexit as rather
like a football match being played while a raging gale blows torrential rain
straight along the pitch. In the first half, the Brexiters had the wind at their backs. Until the negotiations began, they could follow the Groucho Marx tactic
that had worked so well in the Referendum campaign: ‘these are my principles,
but if you don’t like them, I have others.’
So it was: ‘if you want to leave
the EU, but keep all its benefits – no problem. In fact, whatever you want, we
can get.’ And Leave built up a useful lead, but in added time, the rather
robotic team captain, a recent recruit from their Remain opponents, suddenly kicked
the ball into her own net.
Monday was half time. Then came the
second half, as negotiations began. That, of course, meant a change of ends and
now the Brexiters find themselves kicking into the wind and rain. And they
conceded another goal right at the start, as their attempt to discuss a trade
deal in parallel with divorce negotiations was summarily dismissed.
Will I predict the result? No. But
I don’t think there’s any doubt the Leavers are going to find the second half a
lot harder than the first. Perhaps the biggest question is whether the
Remainers will finally discover a bit of fire in their bellies. Still all to
See also my post of 28 June 2016.
The fire that raged through 24 storey Grenfell Tower, which
has killed 79 people, is the deadliest in London during the 21st
century, and the worst ever in a UK tower block. Another fourteen people are in
Until now, London’s most notorious tower block disaster was
Ronan Point in Newham in 1968. The building had 23 storeys and was brand new. Families
had been in for only two months when at six o’ clock on a May morning, they
were woken by a huge explosion and some found their walls ripped away, leaving
them staring at a fearful drop just a few feet away.
The whole of one corner had simply fallen away. On floor after
floor, furniture was left perched on the edge of the abyss. Five people were
killed and eleven injured.
The cause was a gas explosion on the 18th floor –
the result of a substandard brass nut connecting a cooker to the gas supply. The
council repaired the block and moved tenants back in, but the explosion was a
major blow to the prestige of tower blocks, and in 1986, Ronan Point was
For the story, see London’s
Disasters. From Boudicca to the Banking Crisis.