Manchester

Bolton flats blaze: Student flats' cladding 'a concern'

Bolton fire Image copyright GMFRS
Image caption Firefighters have extinguished the blaze at The Cube in Bolton

Cladding on a block of student flats that was hit by a major blaze is a cause for "concern", Greater Manchester's mayor has said.

Two people were hurt when about 100 residents fled The Cube in Bolton after a blaze on Friday.

Mayor Andy Burnham said its cladding was not the same as at Grenfell Tower, where 72 people died in 2017.

But cladding is a "bigger issue... than we have so far faced up to," Mr Burnham admitted.

Residents of The Cube were also confused as to whether there was actually a fire in the building on Friday because, as one said, fire alarms go off "almost every day".

Urban Student Life (USL), which manages the property, said all residents were successfully evacuated after the blaze broke out at about 20:30 GMT on Friday.

In a statement, they said two students were treated for "minor injuries" on site, where up to 200 firefighters tackled the blaze.

Image copyright Neil Hart
Image caption One witness said the fire was "climbing up" the building

Assistant chief fire officer Dave Keelan, of Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) said: "The fire... really did spread very quickly and that was evident to see on the footage that's on social media."

He said an investigation had been launched into the blaze.

'Industrial crisis'

Mr Burnham said: "[The Cube] does not have the same ACM cladding [that was on Grenfell Tower] but nevertheless it does have a form of cladding that causes concern and raises issues that will have to be addressed."

He said he would talk to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who visited the Bolton site earlier, about whether "we need to go further to remove cladding from these buildings and give families peace of mind".

Salford mayor Paul Dennett said he would be asking the government for more money to remove flammable cladding, adding there was "an industrial crisis" around the issue.

Roy Wilsher, chief of the National Fire Chiefs Council, said the fire "once again highlights how changes to building regulations need to be moved on at a much quicker pace".

Image copyright GMFRS
Image caption The fire has led to damage on all floors of the six-storey building

On the issue of the fire alarms, resident Afnan Gohar said she thought it was a "false alarm"

"We didn't take notice of it until a girl came running and screamed, telling us to get out and we didn't believe it at first," she said.

Melissa McGarrigle said: "The fire alarms in the corridor went off but they aren't particularly loud, especially if you're asleep.

"It just doesn't feel real, everyone thought it was just the fire alarms acting up as usual until we heard people screaming."

Image copyright Rafaela Nunes/PA
Image caption The fire started on the fourth floor, the property management firm said

Witness Ace Love, 35, said the fire "kept getting more intense, climbing up and to the right because the wind was blowing so hard".

"We could see it bubbling from the outside and then being engulfed from the outside," he added.

"A lot of students got out very fast, someone was very distressed, the rest were on phones calling for help.

"The fire got worse and worse, to the point where you could see through the beams, it was just bare frame."

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption About 200 firefighters tackled the blaze

Eva Crossan Jory, vice president of welfare for the National Union of Students (NUS), said it had been "calling for a number of improvements in fire-safety measures in student accommodation" across the UK.

"It shouldn't take another fire to put the issue of building safety back on the agenda," she said.

"Student safety must always be the first priority for accommodation providers and the government."

In 2016, Urban Student Life (USL) was criticised in a tribunal ruling for not providing clear written guidelines on fire safety procedures or displaying fire safety notices in one of its student accommodation blocks in Leeds.

Leeds City Council sent in fire authority officers to inspect the building, who declared at the time it was not fit for use.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), said the latest fire was "deeply troubling".

"This is not how any building should react to a fire in the 21st century, let alone a building in which people live," he said.

"It's time for a complete overhaul of UK fire safety before it's too late."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Prime Minister Boris Johnson met people helping residents after the fire in Bolton

Les Skarratts, of the FBU in the north-west, said there would be "hard lessons to learn as the circumstances become clearer in the coming days".

Forty fire engines were called to the scene of the blaze, which affected every floor.

Prof George E Holmes, vice-chancellor of the University of Bolton, whose students live at the block, said: "I can't say enough about how pleased we were with the response - it's been amazing from all emergency services."

Football fans attending Bolton Wanderers' match were asked to donate items for evacuated residents.

The university said it was supporting students, who are being offered temporary accommodation in other student halls and in some hotels.

GMFRS has asked residents who are not yet accounted for to contact authorities to let them know they are safe.

Mr Keelan added a team has "concentrated purely on the high-rises across Greater Manchester to make sure that we learn from Grenfell".

"The evacuation procedure and subsequent training - and putting it into practice last night - has paid absolute dividends," he told a press conference.

"We are going to continue to be here throughout the day and working very closely with the building owner to move this forward in the coming days."


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