Kilburn fire: Neighbours of man who died in Windmill Court blaze tell how tragedy unfolded
PUBLISHED: 22:16 05 January 2019 | UPDATED: 16:08 07 January 2019
Panicked neighbours banged on each other's doors as a fire blazed in a third floor flat, killing a man.
Speaking to the Times in the hours afterwards, residents of Windmill Court in Mapesbury Road – gathered on the ground floor – complained that there were no communal alarms in the building, leaving them to alert each other as the fire grew.
But official brigade guidance is that people should stay in their flats when a fire breaks out in a neighbouring flat within a high-rise – something that did not appear to have been explained.
Chair of the residents’ association Donna, who did not want her full name published, said: “I had four or five phone calls within minutes about the fire, and I went straight down and alerted my partner so that we could knock on all the doors to get people out.
“The man who passed, I was banging on his door, knowing that the chances are he was inside.
“I haven’t seen him for years – I know about him but I don’t know him personally.
“It is shocking and I do feel heartbroken, especially knowing there was somebody that died, and knowing I know the person.
“I can’t believe it. I’ve been here 30 years and never seen anything like this. We’ve had a fire in the bin shed and things but they’re instantly dealt with. But a flat fire, I personally have never seen anything like this ever.”
Asked about her neighbours’ concerns about the lack of alarms, she explained: “You can’t have a fire alarm in this building because of the panic it would cause if that fire alarm went off. With 138 flats, can you imagine all that traffic trying to get down the stairs?”
She added: “But each individual flat has fire alarms that are on the mains.”
Alesha Smith, 28, was with her seven-year-old son when she was alerted by a phone call.
She said: “I could see smoke, but I thought it was the heating pipe. I opened my balcony door and a man was outside saying: ‘Get out of your house.’
“I had to get my him dressed before we left. He was stressed because he knows about Grenfell so he was crying straight away.
“I went and knocked on my neighbour’s because I know he had kids as well.”
At Grenfell Tower, the compartmentalisation of the flats – which keeps neighbours safe from fires in adjacent homes – failed, allowing the blaze to spread. But it is understood the system worked correctly at Windmill Court, meaning there was no need for anyone to leave their homes, even though many did.
Alesha lived directly below the man who died in the fire.
“I was told my flat is probably flooded,” she said, “and I’m not likely to be able to come home this weekend.”
Third-floor resident Shobhna Gandhi was with her pregnant neighbour in the aftermath of the fire. She said: “There’s no communal fire alarm – people were just knocking on doors.
“I was sleeping and someone knocked on the door. I thought it was a postman but someone said it was a fire. I just put my coat on and came out.”
Third-floor occupant Cuba Kwiatkowski, 28, said: “I had no idea what was going on until some lady started knocking on my door and said there was a fire. It was only until I opened the room to the corridor I could smell something.
“There was no fire alarm or anything – how could we have known it was a fire?”
Brent Council asked anyone affected by the blaze to call 020 8937 2400.
Council leader Cllr Muhammed Butt said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the person who has lost his life.
“I am very grateful to the Fire Brigade, all the emergency services and council officers who responded so quickly to contain the fire. The council is now working to ensure that any residents from the neighbouring properties who need to be rehoused are well looked after.”
Fire chiefs are still investigating the cause of the fire.