Grief over a high-rise tower blaze that killed dozens of people turned to outrage Friday amid suggestions that materials used in a recent renovation project may have contributed to the disaster.
Grief over a high-rise tower blaze that killed dozens of people turned to outrage Friday amid suggestions that materials used in a recent renovation project may have contributed to the disaster. AP Photo - Matt Dunham

Hero firefighter tells harrowing account of Grenfell fire

A HERO firefighter who risked his life battling his way up Grenfell Tower as the inferno raged has said the screams he heard will haunt him forever.

Leon Whitley, 34, climbed to the 15th floor of the burning building despite fearing it could collapse like the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Speaking to The Sun, he said: "I'd want someone to go in and rescue my son, so that's what I did."

His dramatic account came as search and rescue teams finally reached the roof of the tower - more than two days after the fire ripped through the building.

But large areas remain unsearched due to safety fears, with some small fires still breaking out.

The confirmed death toll has risen to 30, but Mr Whitley fears it will eventually exceed 100.

He arrived at the scene in West London at 1.45am and was ordered to go with his partner to floor 15.

The dad of one said: "It was reminiscent of the Twin Towers.

"Those things go through your mind while you're in there.

"We all know how that building collapsed. I thought, 'We might not make it out this one'.

"I usually walk into fires very cautious but not scared.

"That was the first time I was scared.

"You start thinking about your family and loved ones, but at the same time you get stuck in because you've got a duty to help people."

Once inside and moving from floor to floor, Mr Whitley said the scene was like nothing he had experienced, adding: "It was hellish. I can still hear the screams now. It feels like a dream.

"It was crazy.

"The screams were coming from all directions.

"I don't think I will ever forget them.

"The screams were horrifying because you knew everyone needed help but you couldn't see them."

The upper floors of Grenfell Tower had remained out of bounds since the fire began in the early hours of Wednesday until today.

Met Police commander Stuart Cundy said: "The building itself is in a very hazardous state.

"It is going to take a period of time for specialists to fully search that building to make sure we locate and recover everybody that has sadly perished in that fire.

"We will be doing that as swiftly as we can."

The bodies of 12 victims have been taken to the mortuary but "a number" remain in the tower, officials said.

Last night fears were growing for up to 15 tots living with their parents in the tower.

Sources from a nursery on the ground floor said the children are still missing.

Ish Murray, 35, whose sister works at Grenfell Creche Under Threes Centre, said: "These are babies and three-year-olds. It's tragic."

Nursery manager Shirley Sylvester confirmed kids who attend the creche and live in the block were unaccounted for, but would not say how many.

She added: "We're completely devastated."

Another local resident, who asked not to be named, told The Sun a firefighter pal had reported around 120 dead bodies on the tower's stairwells.

Many victims are yet to be identified and experts have warned some never will.

The fire burned at 1,800F (1,000C) - the same as used in cremations.

Forensic scientist Dr Denise Syndercombe-Court said the bodies may be so badly burned that it will be impossible to establish who they are, even through dental and DNA checks.

She added: "Key to the investigation is proper documentation of the location of the bodies, although those found outside their flats will be less certain."

Also comparing the tragedy to 9/11, she added: "In the World Trade Center they only ended up identifying about 60 per cent.

"But the techniques for getting viable DNA out of very burnt bodies is much better today."

Met commander Mr Cundy said investigators had examined the location that the fire started, but there was "nothing to suggest it was deliberate".

He added: "It's going to take a considerable period of time to work through Grenfell Tower over the coming weeks to ensure we complete our investigation."

A senior detective from Scotland Yard's homicide and major crime command is leading the case - with calls made for corporate manslaughter arrests.

Mr Cundy said: "If criminal offences have been committed it is us who will investigate that."

Mr Whitley, who lives in South London with seven-year-old son Dakahrai, backed news of a public inquiry into the fire.

He added: "People deserve answers.

"I feel really sad and upset for all the people who didn't make it.

"I feel strongly about the way tower blocks are built.

"I didn't hear any alarms going off in there.

"Fire engines were parked so far away as they couldn't get any closer.

"It could have been designed a lot better.

"People deserve honesty.

"This shouldn't have happened.

"I never thought in a million years I'd go to a job and see what I saw."

Recalling his time in the tower, Mr Whitley said visibility had gone as they got past the fourth floor.

He added: "It was difficult.

"There was thick smoke everywhere.

"All you could do was hear things - loud bangs, things dropping, people screaming.

"You wanted to help everybody but we physically couldn't help everyone.

"At one point we were crawling on the floor because it made you dizzy if you stood.

"It took us so long to get up the stairs that our oxygen levels were dwindling, but we helped other firefighters on the way down who were carrying people."

Mr Whitley thanked the community around Latimer Road for rallying round to support the firefighters and those affected by the blaze.

And he praised all the emergency services for their hard work and bravery, saying: "It's given me even more respect and admiration for my colleagues. It wasn't easy."

But he added: "There are so many cuts to emergency services.

"If all those people weren't there risking their lives to help, then what would people have done?"

This article originally appeared in The Sun and was republished here with permission.

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