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London Police Seek Help in Subway Blaze : Cause a Mystery in Disaster That Claims 30 Lives

November 19, 1987|Associated Press

LONDON — Police today appealed to witnesses for help in determining the cause of a fire that killed 30 people when it turned London's busiest subway station into a cavern of flames and smoke.

About 80 people were injured in Wednesday evening's disaster at King's Cross Station.

Authorities said they had no clue as to what started the fire but were fairly certain it broke out on an escalator. They said they were investigating all possibilities, including arson.

Queen Elizabeth II expressed shock, and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher toured the disaster scene, picking her way through rubble and inspecting the burned-out escalator.

Prime Minister 'Horrified'

She also visited some of the injured and said: "I am horrified like everyone else."

Initially it was thought that trash accumulated under the escalator caught fire, but London Underground said it found the machine room under the stairway "clean as a whistle."

"The cause of the fire is at present not known and is being investigated," Chief Constable Kenneth H. Ogram of the Transport Police told a news conference.

He said telephoned claims of sabotage were received, but gave no details and said he had no grounds for believing them. He appealed to witnesses to contact police and help piece together what happened.

Mystified Over Fire

Divisional Fire Officer Phil Lloyd said, "We are rather mystified at the moment why at the end of the rush hour with a lot of people about, a relatively small fire can accelerate and cause such horrendous damage and such horrendous injuries in such a small space of time."

He said police forensic experts were on hand who "will identify any accelerants, explosives or any other terrorist or fire accelerant that may have been used by person or persons unknown."

Michael Doherty, deputy chief fire officer of the London Fire Brigade, ruled out cigarettes as the cause and said, "We are pretty confident the fire started on the escalator," not beneath it as previously thought.

Panic Sweeps Crowd

Pandemonium broke out when thousands of commuters found themselves trapped by the blaze and struggled to escape through walls of dense smoke and fierce heat.

British Transport Police said 30 people were killed. Twenty-one of the injured were hospitalized.

The fire erupted at 7:36 p.m. at the end of the capital's commuter rush period, and undoubtedly would have claimed an even heavier toll had it occurred an hour earlier.

Some survivors said transport staff directed them to escalators that carried them into flames and smoke. One fire official said the blaze was so hot that it blew tiles from walls of the station.

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