One hundred and twenty firefighters have battled a blaze at the five-star Mandarin Oriental hotel in central London, which sent flames and plumes of black smoke high into the sky.
Guests at the 12-storey luxury hotel, which has recently undergone a £185m refurbishment, were safely evacuated, some in their dressing gowns, as 20 fire engines were dispatched to the scene in Knightsbridge on Wednesday.
The London ambulance service attended the scene, close to Harrods department store, but said there were no casualties.
Flames could be seen around the top of the hotel, and firefighters used long extended ladders to douse the blaze, which appeared to be burning in a central quadrangle. One staff member evacuated to nearby Hyde Park said “some people were very panicked”.
The alarm was raised shortly before 4pm and by just after 6pm the London fire brigade (LFB) said the fire was under control.
“The fire’s nearly extinguished,” said Pamela Oparaocha, an LFB manager. “We know the fire started on the fifth floor on the inner fascia of the hotel. The fire spread to at least one upper floor. Our fire crews worked really hard in the heat to put it out quickly.”
“The fire was in the middle of the hotel,” said Samir Boureghda, of the Masgouf restaurant in William Street.
A tradesman working at the hotel said he hit the alarm button when he saw a fire. The 19-year-old lift engineer, who gave his name as Harry, said: “I was in the lift shaft and I looked to my left and saw the geezers working on the roof. To my left there was a big fire. I said [to my colleague]: ‘Lee, there’s a fire over there, let’s get out of the building. Get out the lift shaft, I’m being serious.’ We ran down the stairs and went and got the scaffolder out of the loading bay.”
He said the builders on the roof had been cutting materials and doing other work during the day. “I could see the orange flames on the roof,” he added. The LFB said the cause of the fire was as yet unknown.
The 181-room hotel, which is part of the Mandarin Oriental global hotel group, only last month completed a major refurbishment project with new bedrooms, public areas, restaurant and dining space and new luxury spa. The hotel is famous for its two-Michelin-star restaurant, Dinner, run by Heston Blumenthal.
Staff were evacuated to Hyde Park, where they were given bottles of water.
One, who asked not to be named, said: “The fire alarm started and everybody was told to get outside. Everything’s fine but we don’t know how it started yet.”
Penelope Evans, 50, from Battersea, south London, was shopping in Harrods when she noticed the thick smoke as she was leaving.
“I saw all this black smoke coming from the sky, it was covering everything and the smell was horrendous,” she said. “It was like people were in shock, everyone immediately just started leaving the street and the area. There were hundreds of fire engines, ambulances, police racing by and helicopters overhead. After Grenfell, I feel like people are a lot more on edge about these things. People just wanted to get out.”
Douglas Ballard, an alternative therapy healer, was evacuated from his office next door to the hotel at 3.50pm. “The alarms went off and everyone was ordered out,” he said. “They said the roof of the hotel took hold very quickly. The firefighters looked unsure what to do, but when the ladders got here the firefighter climbed to the top and put it out pretty quickly. The police were worried about explosions, and kept pushing us back further and further away.”
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