LONDON — A discarded cigarette falling through a gap in a wooden escalator's slatted steps probably sparked a subway station inferno that killed 30 people, a newspaper said today.
Another newspaper reported that the pre-World War II escalator had repeated mechanical problems and twice gave off smoke earlier this month.
British Transport Police said they have pinpointed the cause of last Wednesday's fire at King's Cross subway station but gave no details other than to say arson had been ruled out.
In a brief statement today, police said no more information will be disclosed until the government finishes investigating.
The Daily Telegraph quoted unidentified police sources as saying the cause of the fire probably was a cigarette that fell onto a grease-coated mechanism littered with debris, including fluff and human hair.
Smoking has been banned in London Underground stations and trains since January, 1985, but the ban is sometimes ignored.
Ticket Lobby Engulfed
The escalator fire leaped upward, engulfing the ticket lobby and sending clouds of dense, choking smoke into a labyrinth of platforms and tunnels at King's Cross, the busiest of the Underground's 273 stations. About 80 people were injured, and seven remain hospitalized.
The Times of London said the escalator, installed 48 years ago, "had been repaired on countless occasions (and) . . . was patched up again" after two minor fires on Nov. 7 and Nov. 11.
It quoted a local youth worker, Roger Diamond, who said he and a friend saw white smoke coming from the escalator on Nov. 7.
"There was a smell of rubber and my friend could feel the heat through her shoes and from the handrail," he was quoted as saying.
Four days later, a fire prevention expert spotted smoke billowing from the same escalator, the Times said. It gave no other details.