Bolton fire: Firefighters remain at student flats as cladding probe launched

17 November 2019, 12:59

The huge blaze broke out at The Cube in Bolton on Friday
The huge blaze broke out at The Cube in Bolton on Friday. Picture: Twitter

By Megan White

Firefighters are still at the scene of a student accommodation block fire as authorities have launched a probe into the impact of cladding on its rapid spread.

A huge blaze broke out at The Cube building in Bolton, Greater Manchester, on Friday night.

The building, which houses more than 200 students at the University of Bolton, did not have the same type of cladding that combusted in the Grenfell Tower fire of 2017 and is fitted with high-pressure laminate (HPL) coloured panels.

But witnesses said what appeared to be a small fire ripped across and upwards within minutes, "crawling up the cladding like it was nothing."

Visiting the aftermath of the fire on Saturday, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham raised concerns that people living in buildings with such cladding would be "very worried".

Valeo Urban Student Life (USL), which manages the Cube for the private owners, said that the fire started on the fourth floor and spread to the sixth floor.

The town centre complex in Bradshawgate, described as "luxury student accommodation", consists of two blocks and only the rear block was damaged, said USL.

Paramedics treated two people at the scene for minor injuries - one rescued by fire crews using an aerial platform - after the blaze broke out at about 8.30pm.

One person needed to be rescued by firefighters
One person needed to be rescued by firefighters. Picture: LBC

Greater Manchester Deputy Mayor Beverley Hughes said some of the firefighters involved had been through Grenfell-inspired training one day before.

She said: "The learning from Grenfell has paid dividends. Some of the firefighters had training the day before, particularly around evacuation."

In a statement on its website, USL said: "Valeo USL is continuing to work together with the great welfare and accommodation teams at the university to rehouse students and help them put this upsetting incident behind them.

"Valeo USL is also actively assisting the emergency services with their investigations into the blaze and is committed to help with any investigations and looks forward to understanding the outcome of those investigations and any lessons that can be learnt."

In July, a Government report announced that tests on HPL cladding when paired with non-combustible insulation found it does not pose a risk to public safety in residential buildings of 18 metres or higher.

The tests were on a HPL panel which consisted of fire-retardant chemicals but other such panels without fire retardant were unlikely to adequately resist the spread of fire, the report said.

Cladding using any type of HPL panels with combustible insulation were also very unlikely to prevent fire spreading, it added.

In both latter cases, current Government advice is that building owners should take immediate action.

It is not known yet what type of HPL panels were fitted at the Cube.

Pressure group Grenfell United said the fire in Bolton "brings back memories" of the Grenfell Tower fire, which claimed 72 lives in 2017, and called for Government action.

"Devastating to see images of such quick fire spread last night in Bolton," tweeted the group, which represents bereaved families and survivors from the fire.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said it was "deeply troubling" to see fire spread rapidly up a building's exterior again and called for a "complete overhaul" of fire safety in the UK.