Some 800 households from five publicly-owned apartment towers in London were evacuated Friday night after an inspection found them to be unsafe.
Safety concerns in residential buildings are top of mind in London following the devastating Grenfell Tower fire that killed 79 people in a west London high-rise last week.
The move comes as residents of thousands of tower blocks around the Britain expressed concern and outrage after commonly used building materials were blamed for rapidly spreading the blaze that destroyed Grenfell Tower.
Camden Council in north London, which announced the evacuation, was the first local government to take the dramatic step of emptying its buildings so safety upgrades could be made.
“I’ve made the really, really difficult decision to move the people living there into temporary accommodation while we do the urgent works to guarantee safety,” Council Leader Georgia Gould told reporters outside the public housing complex.
Public safety concerns have been prompted by exterior cladding known as aluminum composite panels, which are believed to have rapidly spread the fire at Grenfell Tower on June 14, trapping residents in their homes before firefighters could save them.
Local councils around Britain are testing similar panels on hundreds of their buildings. Fourteen apartment blocks have so far tested positive for combustible materials.
The council encouraged residents to stay with friends and family, but promised to provide temporary accommodation, if that weren’t possible. Repairs on the building are expected to be completed within three to four weeks.
The council gave notice it had concerns about the cladding on its buildings Thursday, when tests showed the material was not the fire-resistant variety it had ordered.
Earlier Friday, police said they were considering filing manslaughter charges in the Grenfell disaster.
In its most detailed briefing yet on the criminal investigation, the Metropolitan Police on Friday confirmed residents’ suspicions that the inferno at Grenfell was touched off by a refrigerator fire.
The department also said cladding attached to the 24-story public housing project during a recent renovation failed safety tests conducted by investigators, and that police have seized documents from a number of organizations.
“We are looking at every criminal offense from manslaughter onwards,” Detective Superintendent Fiona McCormack told reporters. “We are looking at all health and safety and fire safety offenses, and we are reviewing every company at the moment involved in the building and refurbishment of Grenfell Tower.”
The government has ordered an immediate examination of the refrigerator model that started the blaze. McCormack said the Hotpoint model FF175BP refrigerator-freezer had not been subject to any product recalls before the fire.
Police are looking at all parts of the cladding system and its installation, McCormack said.
“Preliminary tests show the insulation samples collected from Grenfell Tower combusted soon after the test started,” she said. “The initial tests on equivalent aluminum composite tiles failed the safety tests.”
Authorities now acknowledge the risks posed by exterior cladding to thousands of people around the country who live in blocks like Grenfell Tower.
The government has called on all building owners, public and private, to submit samples of cladding material used on their buildings for testing. Samples from 14 buildings in London, Manchester and Plymouth have already been found to be combustible.
Police say 79 people are either dead or missing and presumed dead in the blaze, although that number may change.
To make sure everyone comes forward, both London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Prime Minister Theresa May said the government would not penalize any fire survivors for being in the country illegally.
“We want to identify all those who died as result of the fire at Grenfell Tower, and that is where I need the public’s help,” McCormack said. “I do not want there to be any hidden victims of this tragedy.”
Heartbreaking messages written on red London Fire Brigade T-shirts offer poignant tributes alongside flowers, toys and candles at the shrine. One tribute, from a firefighter in the Kensington and Chelsea borough read: “20th floor, we tried… we’re sorry.”
Another firefighter wrote “Our hearts go out to everyone touched by this tragedy. We did our best I promise.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.