London Fire Was Comparable to a Cremation

And that could thwart efforts to ID the victims
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 16, 2017 11:04 AM CDT

(Newser) – The devastating fire that struck a high-rise tower in London may have been so powerful that it destroyed much of the DNA evidence needed to identify its victims. Metropolitan Police commander Stuart Cundy earlier said there is "a risk that, sadly, we may not be able to identify everybody," and the AP digs into why: Though firefighters keep searching the charred ruins of the Grenfell Tower public housing complex with sniffer dogs and drones, experts say the intensity of Wednesday's fire at the 24-story building will make naming victims extremely difficult, drawing comparisons to the 2001 World Trade Center terror attacks in New York, where 40% of the victims were never identified.

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"When you have a fire that takes hold like that, that is literally an inferno. You get a lot of fragmentation of bodies, charring of bones and sometimes all that's left is ash," says Peter Vanezis, a professor of forensic medical sciences at Queen Mary University in London. He says the temperature of the blaze at Grenfell Tower was comparable to a cremation, though if people were protected by any surrounding furniture or debris, it's possible there might be some viable DNA. But another complicating factor is that much of the DNA material that would normally be used to help pinpoint victims—like toothbrushes or combs—were probably also incinerated in the blaze. "Even if we get some DNA, the question will be, do we have anything to compare it to?" says a forensic science expert. (Read more fire stories.)

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