Aldgate fire: 125 firefighters tackle 17th-floor skyscraper blaze on Whitechapel High Street

Firefighters tackled a blaze on the 17th floor of a block of flats on Whitechapel High Street, with 60 residents being evacuated and one taken to hospital.

A fire has broken out in a high-rise building in central London.

Firefighters are tackling a blaze on the 17th floor of a block of flats on Whitechapel High Street, Aldgate, in the City of London.

Panels of glass can be seen falling to the street below, while flames and thick smoke pour from the building.

Fifteen fire engines and around 125 firefighters have been called to the scene.

A London Fire Brigade (LFB) spokesperson said: “Crews are tackling a fire on the 17th floor of the building.

“The brigade’s 64m ladder has been mobilised to the incident.

“The brigade’s 999 control officers have taken more than 50 calls to the blaze.”

The emergency services were called at 3.53pm.

Fire crews from Whitechapel, Shoreditch, Dowgate, Bethnal Green, Dockhead, Old Kent Road, Islington and surrounding fire stations are at the scene.

Scotland Yard said there are road closures in place and advised people to avoid Whitechapel High Street in Aldgate.

Residents near by have been told to keep their windows closed.

At around 7pm, the fire brigade said the blaze was under control.

A spokesperson said that 60 people had been evacuated, and one person had been rescued by firefighters, with a fire escape hood to protect them from toxic fumes.

All other residents in the building stayed in their flats.

The skyscraper fire in Aldgate. Credit: JamieLFC1892

The cause of the fire is not known at this stage.

The London Ambulance Service said: “We were called at 4.07pm to reports of a fire at a high-rise building on Whitechapel High Street.

“We sent a number of resources including two ambulance crews, a team leader in a fast response car, an incident response officer and members of our Hazardous Area Response Team, with the first of our medics arriving in four minutes.

“Our crews worked closely at the scene with colleagues from the other emergency services.

“We took two patients to hospital, and treated a further two patients at the scene.”

The aftermath of the fire in Aldgate East. Credit: Gabriel Petrovici

The tower block is called the Relay Building, which is partly offices, partly social housing, managed by Network Homes, and also has private flats on the upper floors.

A fire risk assessment for the building in September 2020 stated that the evacuation strategy at the time was to “stay put”, the same strategy which was in place at Grenfell Tower.

It said: “ The premises are purpose-built and from the building features a stay put policy is presumed and is appropriate.

“However, the Fire Action Notice on display is for a simultaneous evacuation strategy which is incorrect.”

The fire risk assessment, which was carried out by Savills, recommended the stay put evacuation strategy.

The FRA was published in April 2021, and recommended a reassessment in September 2021.

Eyewitness Jamie Capper, who works at BT, filmed the blaze from the safety of his nearby office building and told LondonWorld: “It looked like a heavy fire, maybe six floors from the top.

“The fire was burning quickly upwards, but no more than two or three levels at the point of me leaving work.

“I just hope everyone inside is out and safe.”

Cat, who lives in Aldgate, said that the building was called the Houblon Apartments, and she thought everyone had made it out.

A photo of the Aldgate East fire from the opposite building. Credit: Gabriel Petrovici

She said: “I can see it in flat below now. Honestly, I can’t begin to explain ... so many of my children’s school friends live in that building.

“A friend who lives in the building texted me that they believe everyone’s out, adding: ‘But you never know’.

“And this is my greatest fear right now.

“This is a building that houses our local community.

“We may be part of the City, but Aldgate & Aldgate East is a working class area.

“The building is one that houses our friends, our families, our children’s schoolmates.”

The Houblon Apartments on fire in Aldgate East. Credit: Gabriel Petrovici

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “Twenty fire engines and more than 125 firefighters are working hard to tackle a fire at a block of flats and offices on Whitechapel High Street.

“I’m in close contact with the Fire Commissioner - please avoid the area and follow the London Fire Brigade for updates.”

The Bishop of Stepney Joanne Grenfell said churches in the area were ready to offer assistance if needed.

Neighbouring buildings were also evacuated.

Gabriel Petrovici, who works in the building opposite, said: “I saw a fire engine drive past and then saw smoke and flames out of the window.

“Then two to three minutes later we were evacuated, it was very efficient.

“I think they evacuated everyone out of the building with the fire.

“I saw two people with fire blankets.

“We were told we had to evacuate because it might blow up.”

Network Homes, the building’s manager, said in a statement that everyone had been evacuated.

A spokesperson said: “We’re pleased to see everyone has been safely evacuated from the building. As soon as we became aware of the situation we sent a team to the building to provide support to residents, and they remained on site into the evening.

“Network Homes is a leaseholder of 75 flats across floors 7-11 of this building. Overall responsibility for the building lies with the freeholder, and we actively engage with their managing agent on fire safety measures.”