By all means, the events which have unfolded at the Greenfell Tower in London are a catastrophe.
According to media reports, at least twelve people have died after fire spread to over 20 floors and every apartment. Those on the ground could only watch. Witnesses reported seeing a baby thrown out the window.
For now, the focus must be treating the injured, support for those who have lost loved ones and recovery of bodies.
Nevertheless, questions are being asked about how this happened.
According to the BBC, senior fire and building inspector Geoff Wilkinson says he has never seen a building go up the way Greenfell did and that questions need to be asked about a recent refurbishment of the building and subsequent fire and safety checks.
Meanwhile, a group known as the Greenfell Action Group says it has complained about fire risk within the building over several years, with complaints ranging from inadequate fire safety instructions for residents, faulty wiring (which reportedly created power surges in 2013) and breaches in regard to emergency access restrictions.
All this raises questions about the prospect of something similar happening in Australia.
Despite good intentions of many, fire safety standards throughout Australian buildings have been lacking. In Sydney, Chinee parents Julie and Vincent Zhu were forced to watch their only daughter leap to her death from the ledge of a Bankstown apartment in Sydney after fire engulfed a building which had long experienced problems including an absence of sprinklers, poor water pressure in the fire hydrants and a lack of signage. In November 2014, fire ripped up the Lacrosse apartment towers in Melbourne amid cladding which was later found to be combustible. Faulty cabling imported from China is still thought to be lurking in around half of the 22,000 odd homes and businesses in which it was installed several years ago. Fire Protection Association of Australia deputy chief executive officer Matthew Wright complains of requirements of the National Construction Code not being complied with, inadequate education amongst some members of the fire protection industry and a lack of enforcement of fire safety provisions of the National Construction Code.
To be sure, action is happening in some areas. A Senate Inquiry into non-conforming building products is set to report later this year. In Victoria, the Victoria Building Authority has been conduction an audit of cladding on high risk buildings.
Nevertheless, further action is needed. Australia needs a strong plan to prevent non-conforming products from entering the building product supply chain along with active efforts to ensure fire safety standards are being adhered to in our buildings.
The Greenfell debacle shows how lax fire safety can cause fatalities.
If Australia fails to learn from past mistakes, we may not be so lucky when the next Lacrosse happens.