Trapped families cry for help as fire ravages apartment block in Commercial Road


- Credit: sub

Families trapped by a blaze in a suspected arson attack called out to firefighters to save them from their fourth-floor balconies early this morning.

Firefighters use ladders to rescue trapped residents at a block of flats in Commercial Road, Stepney

Firefighters use ladders to rescue trapped residents at a block of flats in Commercial Road, Stepney - Credit: Archant

Fire crews rescued 13 people, including five young children, as the fire ripped through two communal hallways on the third and fourth floors of a block of flats above a Tesco Express in Commercial Road, at the corner of Fenton Street.

The flats in Commercial road today

The flats in Commercial road today - Credit: Archant

The location of the fire meant residents could not exit through their front doors, with balconies offering the only other means of escape.

One attending firefighter, who preferred to remain nameless, said: “It was quite hectic. [Relatives of those trapped] turned up in cars and dressing gowns and tried to run into the building.”

He said groups of people on balconies were “shouting and waving” to be rescued and added it looked like petrol had been thrown in the corridors.

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Whitechapel watch manager Dean Wilkinson said: “Smoke and embers were coming from the roof of the block, so we quickly set ladders up the sides of the building and went to make sure the people on the balconies were safe and ok.”

Emergency call-centre staff stayed on the phone with trapped residents to give them fire survival guidance.

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Five fire engines from Shadwell, Whitechapel, Dowgate, Bethnal Green and Poplar fire stations attended with 31 firefighters and officers.

They brought the fire under control just before 3am and led people out of their flats to safety via an internal staircase.

The London Ambulance Service said they checked over two people for smoke inhalation but no-one was taken to hospital.

It is believed the building is without electricity after a water pipe burst as crews fought the fire, leading to extensive flooding on one floor which affected wiring.

The exact cause of the fire is under investigation by the Met police and London Fire Brigade’s fire investigation team.

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