The Cube: Bolton student flats blaze evacuation 'saved many lives'

Media caption,
Footage captures the moment flames engulf student flats

The immediate evacuation of a student tower block "saved many lives" after cladding failed to stop the spread of a serious fire, a report has found.

More than 200 people were inside The Cube in Bolton when the fire started on 15 November.

Two students had to be rescued by firefighters, one from the sixth floor.

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service said it used new evacuation procedures put in place following the Grenfell Tower disaster.

The fire service report found the cladding on the seven-storey failed to stop the spread of fire, which was started by a discarded cigarette.

Witnesses said the fire ripped across and up the building within minutes, "crawling up the cladding like it was nothing".

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
Greater Manchester's mayor said firefighters did a "truly outstanding job"

The fire service arrived just over three minutes after the 99 call at 20:30 GMT on 15 November 2019, and within 25 minutes the fire had spread to “all floors”.

At the height of the fire at the privately-owned block on Bradshawgate in the town centre, 130 firefighters tackled the blaze with extra staff drafted in from Cheshire, Lancashire, Merseyside and West Yorkshire.

All 217 people inside the building escaped and there were no serious injuries.

“As the fire spread, it was quickly evident that the building was failing to perform in accordance with expectations,” the report found.

“The swift and successful implementation of new operational procedures for tackling fires in multi-occupied residential buildings played a key part in the saving of lives.”

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham is now calling for the removal of “dangerous cladding from all buildings without any resident having to foot the bill”.

“This report confirms that our firefighters did a truly outstanding job in tackling the fire,” he said.

“They undoubtedly saved people from serious injury or worse, and we all owe them a huge debt of thanks.

“The incident also brought home the danger of leaving flammable cladding on buildings.”

Image source, Neil Hart
Image caption,
The quickly spreading fire had a 'devastating effect' on the building

The evacuation procedures used at The Cube will now be sent to other fire services in the UK.

Chief Fire Officer Jim Wallace said: “The speed with which the fire took hold and the devastating impact it had on the building was immense.

“I want to place on record my appreciation of the actions of all who responded to the fire at The Cube.

“They demonstrated great professionalism in the face of extremely testing circumstances.

Steve Wiswell, brigade secretary of The Fire Brigades Union Greater Manchester branch said: "This fire was a shocking reminder of the appalling state of building safety in the UK .

"Firefighters responded bravely in difficult circumstances, but years of cuts and government complacency over building safety - even after Grenfell - left them exposed that night.

"But we should be clear that six fire engines were cut in Greater Manchester just six weeks before the fire due to the Tory government slashing fire funding and Andy Burnham should have stepped in to stop them.

"They must now be restored for the sake of public safety."

Professor George Holmes, vice-chancellor at the University of Bolton, said he was “eternally grateful” to the fire service.

“There is no doubt their excellent work saved lives,” he added.

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