Flammable cladding 'contributed to spread' of Barton Hill fire which left three in hospital

The fire started at Eccleston House, on Aitken Street on 20 October

Flammable cladding was found to have “contributed to the spread” of a fire at a tower block in Barton Hill that left three people in hospital.

As many other council tower blocks in Bristol have the same type of cladding, new fire marshals will begin patrolling these buildings around the clock.

The fire started at Eccleston House, on Aitken Street on 20 October, and injured six people, three of whom were taken to hospital for burns and smoke inhalation.

It happened just one month after a deadly blaze at another council tower block, Twinnell House in Easton.

Now Bristol City Council chiefs are concerned about the safety of other tower blocks in the city with the same type of cladding, a building material used in between walls.

The council is bringing in safety measures and plans to replace the cladding — which could take a decade.

Councillor Tom Renhard, cabinet member for housing, said: “Avon Fire and Rescue have reviewed the arson at Eccleston House on October 20 and concluded that the expanded polystyrene cladding (EPS) contributed to the spread of fire.

"As a result, we have taken the decision to add new precautionary measures in all blocks that have EPS cladding.”

Removing all EPS cladding from council tower blocks could take eight to 10 years, Cllr Renhard said.

There are a number of safety measures that will be put in place:

  • 38 blocks in total will see ‘waking watch’ fire marshals patrolling the buildings around the clock, until new evacuation alarms can be installed.

  • The sprinkler programme will also be “accelerated” with the need for sprinklers evaluated for each block.

  • Some blocks already have waking watch fire wardens, but new patrols will begin at 27 other blocks within the next two weeks, meaning two thirds of all the council-owned blocks will see around-the-clock patrols.

  • The council will write to all affected tower block residents, explaining the works and patrols, and changes to evacuation plans if more fires happen.

Cllr Renhard said the measures were “precautionary” and asked the government to provide more support for councils across the country with fire safety.

He also pledged to attend several residents’ meetings at council tower blocks across Bristol, to hear any concerns.

He said: “While I understand this could be a concern for high-rise residents, I want to reassure them that these measures are precautionary only.

"They show an abundance of caution on our part as I want to be confident that our blocks are safe.

“The programme of new measures and the works that will take place in coming months should reassure residents we’re putting wellbeing first.

"I’ve also written to the government to request that they step up their level of support for local authorities across the UK, not just in Bristol, as similar fire safety patrols may be needed in other parts of the UK too.”

A new programme for installing sprinklers in council tower blocks was introduced in January 2019, but so far it is unclear how much progress the council has made.

After the Twinnell House fire in September, residents asked the mayor and Cllr Renhard to come to a meeting and face questions about why sprinklers hadn’t been installed yet — but they didn’t attend.

Concerns over fire safety took off nationwide after the Grenfell Tower fire in London in 2017.

EPS cladding is different from the aluminium composite material cladding that contributed to the spread of the fire at Grenfell Tower, which killed 72 people.

EPS cladding in council tower blocks in Bristol will be replaced with a rock-based cladding instead.

Credit: Alex Seabrook, Local Democracy Reporter