This evening I received an email from Mark, a listener to my radio show. It was in response to the furore about Jacob Rees-Mogg's remarks on Grenfell, which have made headlines today. The LFB's 'stay put' advice has rightly come under scrutiny. There have been 5,000 fires in London since then and on each occasion, that advice was right. At Grenfell it was not. But we had never seen a fire like that before. I post this not to defend Jacob, but it does make you think...
When I lived in Australia, our village was impacted on (technical term) by the 2008 Black Saturday Bushfire in Victoria, Australia. The formal advice was 'stay and defend; people save houses, houses save people."
Almost everyone left. They knew immediately that a fire of that magnitude was not defendable, not survivable.
The very sad thing was those who waited too late died in their cars and those who did stay were boiled alive in their baths or their swimming pools thinking they would give them protection. Folk died two streets up from us. We were lucky, our house was untouched - and it is pure luck.
As with Grenfell, when they realised the standard advice was wrong, the firies (fire fighters) came into our village even as it was being impacted on by what they knew was an out of control extreme fire - and risked their own lives doing so. To get as many people out as they could.
My point is, you hope people have enough initiative to appreciate the advice may be sound for normal fires, but it was very clear very early on we weren't dealing with a 'normal' fire on Black Saturday or in Grenfell. Flats were being impacted on exceptionally, from the outside for goodness sake!
The only caveat I'd add to that is that you have to leave early and the terrible tragedy of the Grenfell advice, as was the case with folk on Black Saturday, is that the official advice caused confusion and made people take too long deciding for themselves.
Just as with Black Saturday, you'd have had to have just got out of Grenfell immediately you knew, without waiting. As many did of course. The irony is people wanted to follow their own common sense but were over-ruled by the Fire Brigade.
I hope that were the same event to occur in another tower block having the same cladding, people would use their initiative and leave immediately.
There is something wrong, too, with towers built with only one way out. The same with villages in Australia. You have to have at least two ways out, otherwise it's a death trap if one route is impacted on or is blocked. As has been shown unfortunately in Australia far too many times...
The very worst tragedy of all with Grenfell is the advice isn't changing. Perhaps because no-one in authority will admit the advice for extreme, exceptional fires is clearly wrong. I presume for fear of corporate manslaughter charges? But the firies were themselves understandably sucked into their own advice. We always tend to follow advice. The advice in Australia has changed to 'Be ever vigilant. Have a grab-bag ready. Use common sense but wherever possible leave early'. Why isn't it changing to something similar here?