Firefighters rescued 40 others as flames engulfed the upper levels of the 12-story Lakanal House. The dead had taken refuge in a bathroom on the 11th floor.
``We worked as fast as we could and rescued many people from the block,'' London Fire Commissioner Rob Dobson said. ``Sadly, and to the huge regret of the crews involved we simply could not reach everyone in time.''
The worst of the disaster was above the reach of the fire brigade's tallest ladders, which extend for roughly 100 feet.
Dobson said the fire brigade arrived ``within minutes of being called'' and that ``crews worked under very difficult and hazardous circumstances to reach people trapped in the building as soon as they were able to.''
About 100 firefighters - staffing 18 pumps, as well as six rescue units and two aerial ladder platforms - were assigned to the fire. Members of the London Ambulance Service and the Metropolitan Police were also on the scene assisting. The incident occurred on the territory of the Peckham Fire Station, E37.
Assistant Commissioner Nick Collins, quoted by the Evening Standard, said: ``Some of the firefighters went back in three or four times. They were working at their very limits. We are extremely proud of them.''