The idea originated in part from Marcio Gomes, 42, an IT technician who lived for a decade on the 21st floor of Grenfell with his wife, Andreia, and their two daughters. Gomes’s account of the night of the fire is harrowing.
He remembers being woken at 1.30am by banging on his front door. Smoke was gathering on the landing outside his flat. He filled his bathtub with water, laid wet towels against the gaps around his doorways, as he had learnt at school, and hid in the flat with Andreia, who was seven months pregnant at the time, and their daughters, then aged 12 and 10. But smoke soon seeped in. It smelled toxic.
Gomes tells me that he had four phone conversations with the fire service, some of which were replayed earlier on in the Grenfell inquiry.
At 2.21am, an operator assured him that firefighters were coming to their rescue. But just after 3.25am, after nearly two hours of sheltering, flames entered his flat. He told his terrified family to hold hands, forming a human chain, and walk down the stairwell – and to keep going, whatever happened.
They wrapped wet towels around their heads to protect themselves from smoke. Every time Gomes inhaled, he gagged and felt as if he was going to vomit. It was so dark that they had to feel where they were going with their feet.
He stepped on several dead bodies. At one point, someone who had collapsed grabbed at his calf, but Gomes had to keep going.
In the smoke-filled darkness, he became separated from his wife and his daughters, who collapsed on the stairway. Before getting out, Gomes told a passing firefighter roughly where in the building they were – miraculously, all three were rescued.
Andreia had inhaled so much smoke that she was placed into an induced coma in hospital, with a 50/50 chance of survival. Their unborn son, Logan, died.
He was delivered stillborn by caesarean section – the youngest victim of the Grenfell fire. The first question Andreia asked after she woke from her coma was, ‘How is the baby?’
Five years on, the family is still badly affected. Gomes’s daughters have suffered nightmares, and stopped their after-school activities: boxing, swimming and trampolining clubs. Gomes finds even looking at the tower traumatic.
The family has since moved away to another part of London, but he passes through several times a week to visit his brother and to attend football practice. ‘It’s like a wound that never heals,’ he says. ‘It’s covered [but] you know exactly what’s behind that cover. It’s always going to be a difficult place to go.