LONDON -- Workers spotted the blaze in London's subway when it was 'still small' but had no extinguishers to douse the fire before it burst into a raging fireball, killing 31 people, The Independent newspaper said Saturday.
The newspaper, citing its own investigation, said two subway inspectors saw the fire on an escalator at London's busiest subway station Nov. 18 'in its early stages, but they were unable to put it out because there was no fire extinguisher' nearby.
The newspaper said one of the inspectors left the 'fire scene to search for an extinguisher while the blaze was still small' but when he returned, 'the flames were considerably fiercer -- and too hot for him to approach.'
The newspaper said the 'extinguisher he brought with him was no longer any use' and the 'blaze then exploded in front of him into a fireball,' killing 31 people in the worst fire in the history of the London subway system -- the world's oldest.
A spokeswoman for London Regional Transport, which opened its own internal probe into the blaze at the King's Cross station, refused comment on the report.
'We cannot comment while the inquiry is going on,' she said.
But she said standing instructions for subway escalator operators included 'checking that fire equipment is in good working order' and added 'that would cover extinguishers.'
Cause of the blaze has not been disclosed, pending a series of investigations, but police investigators have said it apparently started on the 48-year-old, wood-and-metal escalator from a discarded cigarette or overheated equipment.
The Independent newspaper said the inspector who ran to get the extinguisher has been on sick leave since the fire and has declined to comment before an inquiry into the disaster is held in public.
But the newspaper said he has given evidence to London Regional Transport's own closed-door internal inquiry, which has been going on for a week.
The newspaper, without citing any source, reported he told the inquiry he and another inspector saw a 'small fire' on the escalator and left to find an extinguisher after the alarm was given at 7:36 p.m.
He returned about 8 minutes later 'when the fire suddenly developed into an inferno,' the paper said.
Sources close to the investigation said one of the focuses of the probe was to determine why the blaze spread so rapidly.
Thirty bodies were pulled from the station and another 21 were seriously injured. One of the injured died Friday, raising the death toll to 31.