Probe launched into Bolton student flats fire which spread 'extremely rapidly'

  • Video report by ITV News Reporter Martha Fairlie

An investigation is under way into the cause of a blaze at a student accommodation block which spread "extremely rapidly" to the upper floors of the building.

The top floor of The Cube, which houses students from the University of Bolton, was gutted and visible damage was caused to the fourth and fifth floors of the six-storey building.

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service would not be drawn on how the fire started but confirmed the building did not have the same type of cladding that combusted in the Grenfell Tower fire of 2017.

On Saturday afternoon, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said on Twitter that he had asked all universities to "review fire safety procedures" across all accommodation buildings.

Witnesses said what appeared to be a small fire ripped through the upper part of the town centre six-storey building "within minutes" as it tore up and across.

Ace Love, 35, described the fire as "crawling up the cladding like it was nothing".

They added: "The fire kept getting more intense, climbing up and to the right because the wind was blowing so hard."

  • First year Megan Bell-Gilespie asked firefighters to rescue her dad's ashes from her room after losing everything else in the Bolton student flats fire.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrived for a brief visit at a makeshift centre set up to gather clothing and food donated for students affected by the fire.

He was shown around the hall by Bolton Student Union president Ansh Sachdeva.

He had brief handshakes with a number of the affected students and also met Professor William Morris, the university's deputy chair of the board of governors, who told the Prime Minister: "It's been a terrific response, just marvellous.

"Luckily nobody was badly hurt, the fear here was tangible."

Mr Johnson was overheard saying: "It's quite an appalling fire but they seem to have pulled together so magnificently."

Mobile phone video footage taken by one of the evacuated students showed firefighters tackling flames on the balcony of a flat on the fourth floor.

Paramedics treated two people at the scene for minor injuries, including one person rescued by fire crews from an aerial platform, after the blaze broke out at about 8.30pm on Friday.

On Saturday, Assistant chief Fire Officer Dave Keelan, from Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, said crews worked hard through the night to extinguish the blaze with more than 20 fire engines attending at the height of the incident.

Firefighters at the scene in Bolton. Credit: PA

Speaking at the scene, he said: "The fire spread extremely quickly, that’s why I can’t praise the firefighters enough for initiating a full evacuation as soon as they got here but the fire did spread extremely quickly throughout those upper floors of the building."

Mr Keelan said an investigation into the cause of the blaze would now take place but he would not be drawn on how and where it started.

He said: "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.

"One thing I would like to just confirm, and allay any fears, is this cladding on this building was not the same cladding that was on Grenfell."

Paul Dennett, Mayor of Salford and Chair of Greater Manchester High Rise Task Force, told ITV News Correspondent Paul Brand that deficiencies were found in the cladding and insulation at The Cube in 2017, which broke buildings regulations.

They believe it was removed but will now inspect building to find out.

"I understand the authorities suspect that the cladding was a form of high pressure laminate (HPL) which has already been deemed unsafe by government, combined with even more dangerous foam insulation," Brand says on Twitter.

"If so, private landlord should have removed. Experts sent in to assess."

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 and survivors from the fire.

“It brings back memories of #Grenfell (and) we can’t believe that over 2.5 years later this is happening. Our hearts go out to all the students affected.”

The group said “answers and urgent action” are now needed from Downing Street and the Ministry of Housing.

About 100 students are thought to live at the privately owned building in Bradshawgate and the authorities are still attempting to confirm everyone is accounted for.

The fire after it had just started on the top floors. Credit: PA

Professor George Holmes, vice chancellor of the University of Bolton, said: "We have been working through the night with the amazing emergency services who have been on the job here and I can’t say enough about how pleased we were with the response."

Those affected were provided with overnight accommodation in nearby hotels and at a university halls of residence as Mr Holmes said the university would work with the student's union to ensure students have somewhere to stay in the foreseeable future.

Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham set up the Greater Manchester High Rise Task Force to provide fire safety reassurance, building by building, in the region.

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