Survivors of fatal Belsize Park fire demand answers
Fire inside Daleham Gardens building caught on camera
23 November, 2017 — By William McLennan
Caught on camera, the fire inside the Daleham Gardens block
SURVIVORS of a fire that claimed a young woman’s life have questioned whether poor maintenance contributed to the cause – or spread – of the blaze that destroyed their homes.
Around 20 people were able to flee uninjured from their homes in the council block in Daleham Gardens, Hampstead, thanks to a neighbour who alerted them by shouting at around 2am on Tuesday. A woman believed to be in her mid-30s, named locally as Magdalena Fink, from Germany, was pulled from the burning building by firefighters, but was pronounced dead at the scene. It is believed she was overcome by smoke.
Megan Rousseau, who lived opposite Ms Fink on the first floor, said: “It’s very upsetting to know somebody died and it’s very shocking to know that a few minutes later it probably would have been us as well.” She said it looked like the fire started in a ground-floor cupboard under the stairs.
Rescue teams fought the fire for three hours
“When we came down the fire was only on the lower ground floor in a communal staircase and we would like to know whether there is a negligence issue there,” she added. “We did not hear fire alarms go off on our floor and that is where somebody died. Those questions need to be asked.”
She added: “The building was really badly managed. The whole thing is in disrepair. For example, right next to where the fire is there is a huge roll of carpet that has been there for as long as I can remember. That carpet would have been a perfect conduit for flames going straight up. There’s lots of cupboards and stuff blocking the hallways. There are pieces of wood panelling that have broken off.”
Ms Rousseau, who was able to escape with husband Hugo and their dog, fears she has lost all her worldly goods. “We really owe our lives to the lady in the basement flat, which was just under where the fire started, who just screamed and screamed: ‘Fire. Get out the building.’” Mr Rousseau said: “She woke us up, not the alarm.”
Tanya Ley, who woke her neighbours, said: “I heard the fire alarm, opened the front door and saw loads of flames in the window. “I got the kids out the house, buzzed everyone else up and just screamed my head off and got everyone out the block. I was screaming: ‘Get out the block. Fire’.” She said she had “no clue” if any of her possessions had been saved, adding: “We’ve got no shoes, no clothes. We’ve got nothing. They’ve said we’re not allowed to go anywhere near it at the moment.”
Oliver Cooper, Conservative councillor for Hampstead Town, said: “These reports are deeply worrying for everyone in Camden.” He said the council must “check all smoke and fire alarms”.
The tragedy was a reminder that Camden must focus on fire safety not only on high-rise estates, but also on the large number of council street properties, he said. “Camden has one of the largest portfolios of street-front properties in the country, and they can’t just be an afterthought. “As street properties are often unique in layout and design, they each need their own solutions and systems in place for their maintenance and safety. Tragedies like this can only be prevented by Camden taking proper care of every property, whether big or small, and whether on Camden’s estates or off them.”
Around 60 firefighters and eight engines spent three hours attempting to control flames that destroyed the roof of the building. The brigade was continuing to douse the building in water at 4pm, more than 14 hours after the blaze began. Surveyors have begun to assess the structural safety of the block, owned by Camden Council. It is believed the victim, who had moved in around two months earlier, was renting from a leaseholder, via an agent.
The fire brigade said the cause of the blaze is still under investigation. The council is providing temporary accommodation for some of the evacuated families, while others are staying with friends or relatives.
Councillor Meric Apak, Labour’s cabinet member for better homes, said: “Our priority at this time is to assist all residents affected by the fire. We’re making practical support, including family support workers, available to anyone who needs it. “We’ve provided temporary accommodation to all residents who have requested it. “We will be fully cooperating with police and London Fire Brigade going forward with their investigations.”
A Met police spokeswoman said the fire was not being treated as suspicious.