Fire at New Providence Wharf: an eyewitness account
As I write, I don’t know the wellbeing of my neighbours, the damage done to my belongings or when I will be able to access my home.
Half way through my morning coffee and while checking my emails a panicked call from my flat mate alerts me to some terrifying news: a fire is tearing through New Providence Wharf, my rented home in east London of the last three years. Luckily, neither me or my flatmate are home but after this initial reassurance, my thoughts turned to our flat, our belongings, our home.
The development described as “luxury living” is one of the many complexes lining Canary Wharf, offering views of the Thames, the O2, a residents’ concierge and private health complex. It is also one of several buildings that Tower Hamlets Council has threatened to declare unsafe given the combustible materials that line its exterior. Of course, I was drawn to the former and not the latter when trying to find an affordable and attractive property that I could make into a London home.
Today, however, through the images and videos on social media posted by neighbours and news outlets, it quickly became apparent that my flat was next door to the one now ablaze. Fortunately, for my flat mate and I (but not our neighbours), the fire appeared to travel vertically rather than horizontally, quickly shooting up three floors, fire catching the building’s outer coating – an inferno emboldened by ACM cladding. The fire was effectively and speedily taken under control by fire officers and thankfully no loss of life has been recorded.
Surely this has to force the government to do more to protect us
Lessons learnt from the 2017 fire in Grenfell no doubt assisted the officers who responded to this morning’s fire. However, the speed with which the fire caught, spread and devastated the flat units leaves me, other residents and leaseholders - who have repeatedly reported concern for the danger posed by the poor quality and unsafe materials used on the building’s exterior - fearful and upset.
Work on removing the cladding was due to take place this month, and in recent weeks fire marshals have been present on site (financed by leaseholders rather than the property developer) – the risk of living in such a building therefore overtly evident. Unfortunately, neither were enough to prevent today’s events which have left me feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.
There has been increasing unease, mounting to anger, amongst the community over recent years.
As I write, I don’t know the wellbeing of my neighbours, the damage done to my belongings or when I will be able to access my home. Fire officers are currently inspecting my flat and I note that my cream curtains have not been blackened by smoke. I hope that the few irreplaceable personal items of value to me are not ruined and that I can pick up a change of clothes soon. My flatmate feels “weirded out” and my partner said, “it would send shivers to sleep in that building again after this fire”.
Surely this has to force the government to do more to protect us – the children, adults and families living in unsafe and poorly thought out residential structures. How many more lives must be put at risk?
Lauren Doyle is a resident at New Providence Wharf.
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