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British Open Inquiry Into Subway Station Fire That Killed 30

November 20, 1987|Associated Press

LONDON — The British government announced an inquiry Thursday into a fire that swept through London's largest subway station so quickly that it trapped many commuters without warning. Revised casualty figures showed that 30 people were killed and about 80 were injured.

Investigators went into the cavernous ticketing plaza of the multi-tiered King's Cross rail and subway station to search for clues. In the evening, commuters placed bouquets of violets and dahlias at the subway entrance.

The first civilian victim of the tragedy was identified early today. The Reuters new agency said one of its correspondents, Sara Felicity Dearden, 32, died of smoke inhalation. The Bonn-based journalist had been in London for her grandmother's funeral, the agency said.

Survivors of the Wednesday evening blaze, the worst in the history of the London subway system, told stories of passengers afire and commuters carried by escalators into the flames.

Some survivors said that subway workers directed them to escalators moving up into the fire; others said the down escalators from the upper levels churned on, carrying people toward the flames.

Emergency maps of the station were stored in the ticket office, and firemen had to fight through the blazing concourse to reach it.

Mark Silver, 21, said that he and about 30 others got off a train, saw the fire and tried to reboard but "they wouldn't open the doors. People were pushing and punching each other to try to get on the train. There must have been 200 people on the platform."

"I saw seven people going down an escalator even though it was on fire," he said. "When I got into the main concourse, people were still queuing for tickets and wandering around. It was unreal."

Assistant Fire Chief Joe Kennedy said fighting the flames was like "going down a roaring chimney."

The movement of trains forced air through the rail tunnels and up escalator shafts, creating the upward draft of an efficient furnace. The heat was so intense it melted wall tiles and cracked cement.

"Very quickly, searing heat spread through the whole of the concourse area, destroying almost all combustible material and spreading into the roof," said Kenneth Ogram, chief constable of the British Transport Police.

Fire officials said they were certain the blaze began on an escalator, not beneath as was previously thought, but said they had no idea what caused it.

An independent study of the London subway system two years ago was highly critical of safety arrangements. Transport Secretary Paul Channon said Thursday: "There are a lot of questions to be answered."

Twenty-one of the injured remained hospitalized, 12 in serious condition. No list of victims was issued.

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