The worst fire in the history of the London Underground killed 31 people at Kings Cross St Pancras station.

King’s Cross St Pancras is a major intersection on the London Underground network. Numerous deep platforms serve the Metropolitan, Northern, Piccadilly, and Victoria lines in addition to the Thameslink service. At the time many of these platforms were reached by wooden escalators that had been in place for many years, inside which large amounts of combustible waste had accumulated.

At approximately 7.30pm, passengers reported a fire on one of the Piccadilly Line escalators. The official inquiry later determined that it had been started by a lit match being dropped, which caused the fire to break out beneath the escalator in an area that was difficult to reach with a conventional fire extinguisher. Although water fog equipment was present in the station the staff had not been trained on how to use it so the fire brigade was called instead.

The decision was soon made to evacuate the station using the Victoria Line escalators, and just a few minutes later the fire brigade arrived to find a small fire that soon engulfed the entire escalator. Superheated gases rose to the ceiling of the tunnel, where layers of old paint absorbed the heat that caused a devastating flashover at 7.45pm. Due to the construction of the escalator and the 30° angle of the shaft, a jet of flames and smoke burst into the ticket hall in what scientists now refer to as the ‘trench effect’.

The intense heat of the flashover killed or seriously injured the people who were still in the ticket hall, while hundreds more were trapped below ground and were forced to escape on trains. London Underground were later criticised for failing to train staff effectively on how to deal with fires and evacuate passengers.

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