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Fire rescue drama at slum FLATS

PUBLISHED: 16:06 24 February 2010 | UPDATED: 11:31 23 August 2010

ROOFTOP ACTION: Firefighters on the roof of the burning building

ROOFTOP ACTION: Firefighters on the roof of the burning building

FIREFIGHTERS rescued 17 people, including 11 children from a burning block of flats already condemned by the council for being unsafe, writes Nick Hitchens. Battling the blaze last Wednesday in the roof of the semi-detached house in The Grove, Gravesend

FIREFIGHTERS rescued 17 people, including 11 children from a burning block of flats already condemned by the council for being unsafe, writes Nick Hitchens.

Battling the blaze last Wednesday in the roof of the semi-detached house in The Grove, Gravesend, fire-fighters wearing breathing apparatus led three separate families, including 11 children to safety.

Four fire crews, officers from Kent Police and paramedics were called to the scene, and volunteers from the neighbouring Salvation Army building cared for the victims, all of Eastern European origin, by offering them food and drink.

Unsure of how many people may be living in the building fire officers searched trapped victims for more than 40 minutes before declaring the all clear.

They later revealed the cause of the blaze to have been caused by an electrical fault.

An investigation has now been launched into why the families were living there, after the building had been shut down and closed to tenants for being unsafe through a Prohibition Order ordered by Dartford Magistrates Court in August 2009.

Major Harry Stirling was in charge of the Salvation Army Centre on The Grove at the time of the incident.

He said: "We heard a commotion out in the street and looked outside to see lots of fire men and people. It all seemed to happen very quickly. It was just very fortunate that nobody was hurt. We were able to take them in and feed them within a very short time.

"In terms of time and location it couldn't really have been any better as we were all there for lunch and able to cook hot meals for the families before they were taken for re-housing."

The building was first investigated by safety inspectors from Gravesham Borough Council in August and November 2008. They found the house to have broken fire doors and alarms, and faulty electrical equipment.

Gravesham Borough Council took the then owner of the house, Paramjit Singh Bansal, to court, who was fined £9,030, and the house was then finally closed to tenants in August 2009. A surprise search of the house three months later in November 2009 discovered the property to be full and severely overcrowded.

Steve O'Shea, senior environment officer at Gravesham Borough Council and Simon Beasley, housing needs and improvements manager said they believe Mr Bansal has sold the property to an associate, and revealed that the council has now launched an investigation following the discovery of the three families last Wednesday.

Two of the three families rescued by fire-fighters were relocated to live with friends and relatives while the third, three adults and four children, was placed in emergency accommodation until permanent housing is found.

nick.hitchens@archant.co.uk

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