No audible communal fire alarms in Spitalfields block targeted by arsonists

Fire damage is still visible in the corridors of the flats.

Fire damage is still visible in the corridors of the flats. - Credit: Archant

Residents say they are “living in fear” because arsonists repeatedly set blazes in their block of flats – but their building doesn’t have audible fire alarms.

A 43-year-old, who lives in the block in Brick Lane but wishes to remain anonymous due to fear of reprisals, said youths often break into the building to drink and set fires in the stairwells and added: “This is a tragedy waiting to happen.”

He slammed Spitalfields Housing Association, which manages the property, claiming the building isn’t secure and blasted the system that means residents are unable to hear fire alarms.

But chief executive officer Alnasir Jamal insists the association conforms to regulatory standards, and said: “There is no audible fire alarm system in the common areas; the smoke detectors are linked to smoke vents which in the event of a fire open to remove smoke from the common areas.

“This is to ensure that residents remain in the safety of their flats in an emergency rather than try to ‘escape’ into an area of potential danger where a fire might be.”

The flats are built from brick and concrete, he added, so there is “little combustible material in the common areas [and] what little flammable material is present will burn out before it is able to do any significant damage or spread”.

But the resident said the scheme is dangerous, and believes there were up to six arson attacks last year, with the most recent fire on December 30.

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“I can’t hear any alarms,” he said. “The police came banging on my door at one in the morning asking if I’d seen anything - the whole building was engulfed with smoke.

“It’s groups of young men trying to cause as much damage as possible. They even try to burn fires in the electrical boxes. The security and locks are insufficient - a five-year-old could break in. People are living in fear.”

Mr Jamal, who said he is aware of several incidents of youths breaking into the building but only has records of two arson attacks, defended the building’s magnetic locks. He added his staff have met with residents to discuss their concerns, and are liaising with the police to catch those responsible for the fires.

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