POLICE have ruled out arson as the cause of the blaze at a Thornton Heath housing block after residents homes were destroyed in the fire involving cladding which experts have issued warnings about.
Those made homeless by the fire in April which damaged at least five flats at Crystal Court were rehoused in hotels where some still remain as The Chronicle understands they don’t want to return.
But Orbit Housing, the housing association which manages the building, told The Chronicle: “All relevant fire risk assessments on the building are up to date and an independent Chartered Fire Engineer has reviewed the building’s fire safety to confirm that it is safe to occupy. We are in the process of adding additional fire detection into the building, as this will give our customers even more assurance that their safety is our priority. “
However, even though it is the more expensive option and there is no legal obligations to do so to make customers ‘feel safer in their homes’ the cladding is set to be removed by Orbit, The Chronicle understands.
An investigation is ongoing to establish the full facts of what started the blaze at the rear of the building and this picture captured by neighbour Ian McMeekin shows the intensity of the fire which scaled the exterior cladding to the roof.
When The Chronicle asked London Fire Brigade about the cladding and whether this was the normal trajectory of a fire, the response from fire investigation was: “It would be impossible to tell as there are too many factors and variables at play.”
Since the fire in April a dog unit and security guard have been permanently stationed outside the social housing block which has suffered a number of anti social behaviour issues with drug dealers.
In a statement to The Chronicle Orbit said: “The safety of our customers is paramount and we have introduced security as a precautionary measure while remedial works have been taking place at the development to provide reassurance to our customers, with improved CCTV on site and additional door security locks and fob readers. There are no ongoing concerns with regards to the fire safety of the building.”
Orbit, told the trade magazine Inside Housing that the cladding system on the building at Crystal Court was Trespa Meteon, a form of HPL high-pressure laminate) cladding which it reports was also installed on Lakanal House in Southwark at the time a huge fire killed six people in 2009.
The Inside Housing article states that the cladding which is made of wood-based layers pressed together at high temperatures, has come under scrutiny following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 with experts previously warning that “the next Grenfell” would be in an HPL-clad building.
In 2019 Orbit also employed the same security dog unit services after the block was without a front door for months because it was removed for repair. It had been damaged by street drinkers and drug users who were regularly gaining entry to the flats with addicts sleeping in the underground bin storage area.
One resident said on Twitter at the time: “There are signs of drug addicts trying to set fire to the building everywhere.”
Following the door incident there were more issues and after this latest fire police again raided a flat inside Crystal Court where drug dealing had been taking place and The Chronicle understands tenants involved in illegal activity have been served notices to leave.
In a police operation in September last year search warrants were also executed and arrests made for drug dealing of Class A substances.
The building which is used to house council tenants including children often accommodates vulnerable tenants. They had to be evacuated to the nearby leisure centre while firefighters tackled the blaze in April.
This is the second time the block has been at the centre of a fire drama. In 2017, solar panels and cladding caught fire.
A shed, a storage box and surrounding fencing and decking at the rear of a first floor flat were destroyed by the blaze and part of two three-roomed flats on the first and third floors of the building were damaged by fire as well as the exterior of the building.
After the Grenfell fire some cladding has been deemed dangerous and requires removing which has resulted in a battle over the cost of repairs.
A spokesman for Orbit continued: “The majority of customers have now returned, and we continue to provide reassurance to customers that their property is safe.”
Adding: “We are still awaiting the fire service report to determine the cause of the fire and have been supporting the fire service and police with their enquiries.”