Firefighter who battled Grenfell Tower blaze 'feared building would collapse like World Trade Centre'

Leon Whitely says he will never forget the screams of victims

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The Independent Online

A firefighter who climbed to the 15th floor of Grenfell Tower as it was ravaged by fire feared the block would collapse like the World Trade Centre.

Leon Whitley, a 34-year-old father of one said he would never forget the screams of victims trapped in their flats as the blaze engulfed the 24-storey building in west London.

Thirty people are known to have perished in the disaster but the death toll is expected to rise. Dozens more were injured and at least 70 people remain unaccounted for. 

Mr Whitley was among hundreds of fire crews who risked their lives running towards danger as the tower in North Kensington burned.

 "It was reminiscent of the Twin Towers," he told The SunThose things go through your mind while you're in there.

"We all know how that building collapsed. I thought, 'We might not make it out this one'. I usually walk into fires very cautious but not scared. That was the first time I was scared."

He described the experience as "hellish" and added he still hears the screams from people trapped as flames tore through the building.

"It was crazy," he told the newspaper. "The screams were coming from all directions. I don't think I will ever forget them. The screams were horrifying because you knew everyone needed help but you couldn't see them."

Fire commissioner tells of psychological effect on firefighters of Grenfell fire

Damian Magee, crew manager at Whitechapel fire station, told Sky News: "We were hoping it was a building site, a new-build that was going up, because we couldn't believe what we were seeing and we were miles and miles away.

"We heard the children screaming, I can remember one kid's voice that was sticking out, higher pitched than all the others. Screaming, screaming for help.

"They probably had some sort of hope when they saw us firefighters down there, for us to get in and help them."

London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton added: "For my crews who were on the ground who witnessed it happening it was truly horrible and shocking.

"I spoke to one of my officers who was very near when someone came out of the window, he was in tears. He is a professional fire officer.

"We like to think of ourselves as roughty-tufty and as heroes but they have feelings. People were absolutely devastated by yesterday's events."

More than 70 people, including entire families, remain unaccounted for following the disaster.

Police fear the blaze was so intense that some victims may never be identified.

Relatives and friends have been circulating appeals on social media in a desperate bid to locate missing loved ones, but hope has begun to wane amid anger over apparent safety failings that allowed the blaze to cause such devastation. 

Hundreds of people gathered outside the town hall early on Friday evening demanding answers.