A residents' group says it repeatedly warned about Grenfell Tower's fire safety.
LONDON — At least 12 people have died after a huge blaze ripped through a 24-story residential tower block in west London.
The Metropolitan Police expects the number of fatalities to rise over the coming hours as the full-scale of the Grenfell Tower disaster becomes apparent.
Some 69 others were injured, with 18 in critical care. London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said firefighters have only suffered "minor injuries."
The London Fire Brigade was called to the fire in Kensington at 12:54 a.m. (BST) and firefighters are still tackling the flames. The cause of the fire is not yet known.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan declared it as a "major incident," while Commissioner Cotton told reporters: "In my 29 years as a firefighter, I have never, ever seen anything on this scale."
At least 40 fire engines and 200 firefighters responded to the blaze at Grenfell Tower and have been working since the early hours of the morning. Steve Apter, director of safety and assurance for London Fire Brigade, said firefighters will continue to work through the night at the scene.
People remained trapped in the building hours after the blaze started. There were images of at least one man appealing for help from his window on the 11th floor.
The London Fire Brigade entered the building in a search and rescue operation, with 65 people being rescued. Firefighters have now searched all of the building.
Appeals have begun for people missing in the fire. Labour MP David Lammy Khadija Saye has appealed for information about local artist Khadija Saye.
"Several hundred" people would have been in the block when the fire broke out, according to Kensington and Chelsea council.
Witnesses claimed that people were jumping from some of the lower floors or creating makeshift rope ladders in an effort to escape the blaze. A witness even reported a baby being dropped into the arms of a member of the public from the tenth floor of the building.
Kensington and Chelsea Council has opened an emergency rest centre for evacuees at the Harrow Centre on Freston Road, it said.
A cordon is in place, the London Fire Brigade said, and 30 adjacent flats have been evacuated. Local roads, including the A40, were closed.
The London Fire Brigade said the tower was not in danger of collapsing. In a statement, it said that a structural engineer had checked it was safe for fire crew to be in the building.
Resident Ahmed Chellat told ITV's "Good Morning Britain" that his family were still inside the building. "We don't know where they are, whether they are still in or out. We're waiting for news," he said.
Chellat said his brother-in-law was advised not to evacuate initially. This was echoed by other residents, while there are also reports that some didn't hear any fire alarms in the building.
Eyewitness Muna Ali told the BBC that the blaze had "completely spread" within 30 minutes. "The flames — I have never seen anything like it, it just reminded me of 9/11," she said.
As the blaze raged, residents group Grenfell Action Group blogged about the incident.
It said it had "posted numerous warnings in recent years about the very poor fire safety standards." It added: "All our warnings fell on deaf ears."
Kensington and Chelsea council declined to comment when contacted by Business Insider.
The Grenfell Tower underwent a £10 million upgrade last year. The work was completed by the Rydon construction group.
"The large-scale works included the installation of insulated exterior cladding, new double glazed windows and a new communal heating system," the council said.
The "insulated exterior cladding" has been a particular area of focus, with residents speculating that it could have exacerbated the fire.
Furthermore, Inside House has uncovered a Freedom of Information Act disclosure from Kensington and Chelsea council, which shows Grenfell Tower has not been checked for fire safety for 18 months. This means it has not been assessed since the refurbishment.
"Something has gone dramatically wrong here," Geoff Wilkinson, a fire and building inspector, told the BBC. "If there is a fire in any of these buildings, you'd expect it to be contained to an individual apartment."
In an interview with LBC Radio, Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick added that the government had ignored calls to install sprinkler systems in tower blocks which could have prevented the blaze.
Theresa May's new chief of staff Gavin Barwell reportedly "sat on" a report as housing minister warning that tower blocks such as Grenfell Tower were vulnerable to deadly fires.
Nicholas Paget-Brown, the leader of Kensington and Chelsea council, admitted a "thorough investigation is needed." He told the BBC that council buildings undergo fire inspections and safety guidance is issued to residents.
The Metropolitan Police said "it is likely to take some time" before they are able to establish the cause of the fire.
"Anyone who is concerned about loved ones in relation to the fire should contact Casualty Bureau which has been opened following the fire. If you do not get through immediately please do try again," said Commander Stuart Cundy.
The Casualty Bureau number is 0800 0961 233 or 0207 158 0197.
Grenfell Tower is close to Latimer Road tube station and Notting Hill.
The Prime Minister's office released a statement following the fire. A spokesman said:
"The Prime Minister is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life in the Grenfell Tower and is being kept constantly updated on the situation.
"She has asked for a cross-Government meeting at the Civil Contingencies Secretariat to take place at 4pm to co-ordinate the response and ensure the Government is ready to assist the emergency services and local authorities as necessary.
"The PM’s thoughts are with all of those affected by this terrible incident and the emergency services, who are working tirelessly in very difficult circumstances."
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he was "truly devastated" by the fire. "I want to thank our incredible firefighters and emergency services for their immense courage, dedication and professionalism," he said in a statement.
Khan added: "There will be a great many questions over the coming days as to the cause of this tragedy and I want to reassure Londoners that we will get all the answers."
Londoners are offering help to residents affected by the blaze. Nearby community centres, such as St Clement's Church, are offering refuge, spare clothes, and toiletries.
Local businesses are also offering support, including food and drink. Chef Jamie Oliver was among those contributing to the efforts. "You are all welcome to come hang out in my restaurant and be fed and watered by my [Notting Hill] Jamies Italian team," he said on Instagram.