Twinnell House residents are still waiting for answers about the lack of fire safety measures in the tower block following a fatal fire.
Council chiefs failed to turn up to a residents meeting on Thursday to respond to questions on why no sprinklers have been installed in the Easton high rise.
During the meeting, in a packed hall at the Easton Christian Family Centre, a mother who lives in a flat opposite the one where the fire started described how she struggled to carry her six-year-old son barefooted down 16 flights of stairs after smoke entered her home.
A minute’s silence was also held for Abdul Jabar Oryakhel, 30, who died after falling from a window on the 16th floor of the building as he tried to escape the flames that ripped through his flat on September 25.
People living in other council tower blocks in Easton and Lawrence Hill questioned why they were still waiting for Bristol City Council to install sprinklers in their homes, despite the council promising in January 2019 it would spend millions doing so over the next five years.
Shaban Ali lives in Barton House, a nearby tower block. He said: “This could have happened to any one of us and the reason we’re here is to prevent it happening again. I’ve lived in Barton House for seven years, and I have two children, they’re aged two and are twins.
“It would be a nightmare if that happened in our building, and I live on the 11th floor. If a fire were to break out, the lift would stop, so we would all have to go out through this narrow corridor and the steps are really slippery.
“The reason we’re here is to make some demands of the council: fit fire sprinklers throughout the BS5 towers; employ day and night fire wardens in all blocks until sprinklers have been fitted; and to carry out fire safety checks at least once a year, with findings and action plans made public.
“What lessons have been learned from Grenfell? In January 2019, Bristol City Council announced they would be fitting sprinklers in every tower block by 2024. There has been nothing done to our blocks —what is going on?”
A few council tower blocks do have fire marshals patrolling around the clock. Four blocks in Barton Hill—Ashmead, Barton, Harwood and Longlands — will see waking watch wardens patrol the blocks while works take place to improve fire safety measures.
‘The fire has deeply upset us all’
Two empty chairs were placed at the front of the meeting, after Bristol mayor Marvin Rees and the council’s cabinet member for housing Tom Renhard didn’t accept invitations. But Councillor Renhard wrote to ACORN, a community union representing some residents, asking to hear the details behind their concerns about fire safety.
Renhard said that “all fire safety systems worked correctly” in Twinnell House on the night of the fire.
In the letter, Renhard said: “The accidental fire at Twinnell House last month affected and deeply upset us all. Since then, we have been creating as many opportunities as we can to listen to comments and thoughts from residents with regard to fire safety, as well as other safety concerns too.
“Conversations have also taken place at numerous meetings locally close to Twinnell House, including a meeting at Twinnell House with the mayor and myself in attendance on September 29. The mayor also visited again last week on October 7.
“While all fire safety systems worked correctly at Twinnell House, the news may have caused some concern among residents at other tower blocks. We have contacted all our tower block residents by text message to say that reminder fire safety information specific to their block will be circulated through their letterboxes in coming weeks.”
He said the stay put policy allowed the fire service to quickly control the fire and put it out, that the cladding did not cause the fire to spread outside the building, and the building’s fire doors and compartmentation prevented the fire from spreading.
Four residents remain in temporary accommodation while a corridor on the top floor of the block is cleaned and repaired. These residents are expected to be able to return to their homes “very soon”, Renhard said.
He said the council spends £2.5 million a year on fire safety of its 62 high-rise tower blocks.
All 62 high-rise council house blocks in Bristol will be inspected for fire safety in the wake of the fatal blaze due to new government regulations. The city council is investing up to £1million on the checks, which are required under new regulations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.
How was the smoke able to spread?
One important issue is how smoke from the fire reportedly spread into other flats. Eight people from Twinnell House were treated for smoke inhalation on the night of the fire.
Selma Muuse lives on the 16th floor of the tower block, opposite the flat which caught fire. She told the meeting how she was forced to flee with her son after smoke began to fill up their home.
She said: “I turned on my light and there was smoke everywhere, it was coming through my door and I felt it on my feet. I tried to open my door but the door handle was hot, very hot. I opened the door and I saw smoke everywhere, fire in front of my neighbour’s door, and the door was wide open. I think somebody tried to escape and they left the door open.
“I closed the door because I didn’t want more smoke to come into my flat and for my son to inhale it. I have a six-year-old son who is autistic. I was scared for my life and my son’s life. I ran to my son’s room and I woke him up. I said ‘Ahmed there’s a fire, we’ve got to go’.
‘I don’t want to go, I’m gonna die’
Muuse said she wrapped a scarf around her and her son’s heads as she was scared they would inhale smoke.
“[My son] was so scared and he said ‘mummy I don’t want to go, I’m gonna die’ and I said we can’t stay here because we are gonna die if we stay here,” she said.
“I thought about Grenfell Tower, when I saw they were waiting for the fire service to enter, and I didn’t want to wait because I was scared. So I took the decision to leave with my kid. We opened the door, everything was hot and I thought even if I make it out with burns, I’m fine as long as I make it out.”
Like other Twinnell residents, Muuse said she didn’t hear any alarms going off in the building.
“It was hot, smoke was everywhere, and I ran with my son barefoot in my pyjamas. No fire alarm went off, no smoke alarm, even though there was smoke in my home. My smoke alarm didn’t go off, nor did my neighbour’s.
“If I had heard a fire alarm, I would have woken up in flight mode, I would know that there was a fire somewhere in this building. But because that didn’t go off, I wasn’t expecting to see what I woke up to.”
“I ran away with my son, we went downstairs, from the 16th floor down, all the way down. I kept saying to Ahmed ‘come on, run’. He’s autistic and has leg problems, so I had to carry him but I couldn’t carry my son any longer because my legs felt so numb. I carried him as much as I could and then I put him down and said ‘Ahmed you’ve just got to run’.
“I told him ‘we’re almost there, we’re almost there’, but I didn’t believe myself that we were almost there because it felt so long, and all we could hear was ‘help me, help me, help me’. I didn’t know where it was coming from and my son was saying ‘mummy they’re asking for help’ but I said ‘we’ve got to help ourselves, Ahmed, we have to save our own lives’.”
“Finally when we made it outside I was just in shock, I couldn’t speak to anybody. My phone kept on ringing. The fire alarm didn’t go off. People in the community had to ring each other, to say there’s smoke and they have to get out because they didn’t hear the fire alarms.”
She said that she then went to a rest centre that had been set up in a nearby church.
“We didn’t have any clothes and we were barefoot. They gave us some shoes and my son a jacket and we stayed there and waited until they took us to a hotel. They’ve been transferring me around from hotel to hotel. This will be the fourth hotel I’m going to next week.”
On 1 November, tower block residents and ACORN members will go to City Hall and present their demands to the council for sprinklers, fire marshals and annual safety inspections.