After a fire broke out in the middle of the night on Wednesday in west London’s Grenfell Building, dozens of residents are crediting their safety and lives to neighbors who were celebrating Ramadan.
20-year-old Khalid Suleman Ahmed recently moved to Grenfell Tower, which houses 120 homes across 24 stories.
When the fire broke out just before 1 a.m., Khalid just happened to be awake.
He says it isn’t normal for him to be up in the middle of the night, but he had stayed up during Ramadan for Suhur—the meal before dawn that Muslims take part in before fasting again during daylight hours.
“No fire alarms went off and there [was] no warning,” Khalid told HuffPost UK. “I was playing PlayStation waiting to eat suhuur (beginning of fast meal) then smelt smoke. I got up and looked out of my window and saw the seventh floor smoking.”
Having realized there was a fire, Khalid quickly woke up his aunt—whom he lives with—and began banging on his neighbor’s doors to wake them up.
“The whole corridor went black with thick smoke. I didn’t think it was serious at all, me and my auntie thought it was an isolated incident but we’d just evacuate just to be safe. When we went out and were taken by the firemen to a safer place then we saw that it still hadn’t reached our house – 20 minutes or so later our house was gone. The firefighters were very quick. They immediately started work.”
After evacuating, Khalid says he saw some of his neighbors later on, and there was only one family unaccounted for.
“People were calm walking out but when they realized loved ones were missing or unaccounted then they started to panic. Once we were outside it started to spread more.”
According to witnesses, Muslims who were awake at the time of the fire were a “lifeline.” They told reporters, “Muslim boys saved people’s lives. They ran around knocking on people’s doors.”
Khalid says he might have been up late like this on a Friday night but never on a “random” weeknight if it wasn’t for Ramadan.
“There are a lot of Muslims living there and people choose up to stay up and wait, so it was certainly a factor for me and others. It probably did save lives.”
At least 100 people are being treated for injuries or smoke inhalation at local hospitals. The blazing fire has claimed the lives of 12 people so far, with officials expecting the death toll to continue rising.
Those who witnessed the fire likened the scene to that of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.