London fire: Destroyed DNA a roadblock in identifying victims

london fire attack, fire, building

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.

As firefighters keep searching the charred ruins of the Grenfell Tower public housing complex with sniffer dogs and drones, Metropolitan Police commander Stuart Cundy said there was “a risk that, sadly, we may not be able to identify everybody.”

Experts said 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 percent of the victims were never identified.

“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,” said Peter Vanezis, a professor of forensic medical sciences at Queen Mary University in London.

He said the temperature of the blaze at Grenfell Tower was comparable to a cremation.

“The longer a fire burns, the less chance you have that there will be enough DNA left to test,” Vanezis said. Still, he said if people were protected by any surrounding furniture or debris, it’s possible there might be some viable DNA.

Vanezis said the best chance to identify victims may be if officials find any remaining bits of teeth or bone, which are usually the last parts of the body to be destroyed. He said sophisticated techniques could be used to amplify the DNA, but noted such tests can only identify a person’s family, not the individual.

Vanezis added that medical devices like a pacemaker or any artificial implants could be used to identify people by finding their registration details.

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.

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