The Fire Brigades Union has called for a complete overhaul of UK fire safety after two were injured in the Grenfell-style blaze that tore through a Bolton university building.
An investigation is now under way into the cause of the fire at a student accommodation block which spread ‘extremely rapidly’ to the upper floors of the building.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: ‘This terrible fire highlights the complete failure of the UK’s fire safety system.
‘It’s deeply troubling to see fire spread rapidly up a building’s exterior again – a shocking indictment of the government’s shameful inaction after Grenfell. This is not how any building should react to a fire in the 21st century, let alone a building in which people live.
‘We need to end the deregulation agenda and the disastrous cuts to our fire and rescue service. It’s time for a complete overhaul of UK fire safety before it’s too late.’
A massive fire and emergency services operation was underway last night after a student building went up in flames in Bolton (pictured, the scene of the blaze)
Les Skarratts, FBU North West executive council member, said: ‘Greater Manchester has lost more than 600 firefighters since 2010 alone and, alarmingly, Andy Burnham is trying to cut another six fire engines, including one in Bolton.’
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.
And some students claimed they fire alarms did not sound so they had to rely on the shouts of other residents in the building to alert them to the blaze.
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.
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, who described the fire as ‘crawling up the cladding like it was nothing’, said: ‘The fire kept getting more intense, climbing up and to the right because the wind was blowing so hard.’
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.
Speaking at the scene, he said: ‘I really want to praise the actions of my firefighters and officers last night.
Firefighters continued to work into Saturday morning at the scene where the fire broke out last night
‘Their early intervention and quick decision-making that evacuated this building at pace early on in the incident has made a real difference to the outcome today.
‘Crews continued throughout the night in really difficult circumstances and situations.
‘You can see the result this morning where the fire is extinguished and the crews are just working now to identify any hot spots.
‘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.’
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.
Witnesses reported seeing students ‘crying on their phones’ outside the building where more than 12 fire engines are now in attendance (pictured, the scene of the fire)
Firefighters spray gallons of water into the building in Bolton town centre on Saturday morning
‘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.
‘(People) must feel safe in their homes. 100s of people go to bed scared every night in buildings covered in dangerous materials,’ it continued. ‘When will this be treated as a national emergency?! This cannot go on!’
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.
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 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.
Mr Keelan said it was evident from footage on social media that the fire developed ‘exponentially’.
He said: ‘We need to review this, we need to do the fire investigation with other agencies and we need to look at what we need to do in the future and how we can learn.
‘Since the tragic incident at Grenfell in 2017 we have done extensive work and we have got a high rise task force team in Greater Manchester to make sure we learned from Grenfell, and indeed the evacuation procedure and subsequent training we have done on that and putting it into practice tonight has paid absolute dividends.’
More than 40 fire engines were still at the scene this morning tackling ‘the last few fighting pockets of fire’ after witnesses last night described flames ‘crawling up the cladding’ on the outside of the building.
It has now been claimed the alarms in one of the Bolton flats did not sound last night.
There was also a significant police presence at the scene, as firefighters desperately battled the flames (pictured)
Locals said the scene was ‘shocking’ as residents were evacuated and workers battled the flames
Police stand outside the aftermath of the fire at the student accommodation known as the Cube in Bolton
The top corner of the Cube is charred after fire burst through the roof during the incident last night
Another angle shows the extent of the damage done to the student accommodation overnight
A woman, believed to be a student, posted on Twitter: ‘The fire alarms in our rooms didn’t even go off.
‘It took banging on people’s doors and screaming ”it’s a real fire” to get everyone out.
‘My whole life is in that room and not knowing what possessions I still have is horrible.
Firefighters strip away the cladding on the accommodation
‘We don’t know what to do now. Goodnight.’
Stephen McKenzie, an independent fire safety and resilience expert, told BBC 5Live: ‘We’ve got a catastrophic failure of the fire safety provisions in this building.’
‘Most concerning of all is the reports from the students evacuating is that the fire alarm did not operate.’
And student Melissa McGarrigle, who was evacuated last night, said while alarms went off inside the building, those in students’ rooms did not and thus they were difficult to hear.
‘It just doesn’t feel real, everyone thought it was just the fire alarms acting up as usual until we heard people screaming,’ the 18-year-old said.
‘The fire alarms in the corridor went off but they aren’t particularly loud, especially if you’re asleep.’
Urban Student Life, which owns The Cube, has been contacted for comment.
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham urged students to get in contact with their families this morning because ‘most people have been accounted for but not everyone’.
A woman, believed to be a student, posted on Twitter: ‘The fire alarms in our rooms didn’t even go off!’
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham urged students to get in contact with their families this morning because ‘most people have been accounted for but not everyone’
Firefighters were pictured at the scene after the fire on the top floors of the building on Bradshawgate in Bolton
At 1.30am on Saturday, the fire service tweeted to say 40 fire engines were at the scene of the blaze
Shocked students posted to their social media accounts to share their experiences of the fire
Footage shared on social media showed the top floor of The Cube engulfed in flames as chunks of what appeared to be flaming cladding material fell to the ground.
Zaynab, who lived in the flats and was lifted to safety by a firefighter, told BBC 5Live: ‘Well I was sleeping and I heard the fire alarm, but the fire alarm normally does go off in all the flats, so I thought it was just normal so I fell back to sleep.
‘Then I was woken up after a bit to the smell of burning and so I walked outside my room and I knocked on the doors but nobody answered.
‘So I opened my flat door and there were just flames outside, there were just smoke and fire outside. So that’s when I realised it were a real fire alarm.’
When asked what her friends had said about the blaze, she said: ‘None of my college students live in the accommodation, but I did meet some girls outside and they were saying that they just don’t know, they just heard a bunch of boys screaming ”fire” and then some people were saying on Facebook that the fire alarm actually didn’t go off.’
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.
‘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.’
A spokesman for Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service said crews were called to Bradshawgate in Bolton town centre at 8.50pm
Dominic Walsh, 36, was in a nearby curry house with his father when the fire (pictured) started and he estimated between 50 and 100 people were evacuated from the building, which houses students
A huge emergency service response was underway after the fire broke out at a student block in the centre of Bolton (pictured)
Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service said 40 fire engines were at the scene and that the building was being evacuated (pictured fire crews at the scene)
Dominic Walsh, 36, was in a nearby curry house with his father when the fire started and he estimated between 50 and 100 people were evacuated from the building, which houses students.
He said: ‘We could smell smoke and we thought it was just coming from the kitchen, then a couple of fire engines rocked up and then a few people were coming out of the building, and then a few more.
‘When we stepped out we could see the embers in the sky. We could see the building glowing at the top.’
He said he didn’t see any casualties although a number of students were ‘crying on their phones’.
‘It was pretty awful,’ he said, adding: ‘They were just in shock.’
One witness described the fire as ‘crawl[ing] up the cladding like it was nothing’. Pictured: Fire crews hosing the building
Two firefighters are pictured at the scene last night after the fire on the top floors of The Cube building
Greater Manchester Police also said they were at the scene. GMP Bolton North posted on Facebook last night: ‘We are currently dealing with an incident on Bradshawgate and have a number of road closures in place. Please avoid the area until further notice’
Images posted on social media show firefighters tackling flames coming out of the windows on the top floors of a building on Bradshawgate
There was a significant police presence at the scene, with a Greater Manchester Police Bolton North spokesman saying last night: ‘We are currently dealing with an incident on Bradshawgate and have a number of road closures in place.
‘Please avoid the area until further notice. Thank you for your cooperation.’
Today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted: ‘My thoughts are with all those affected by the serious fire in Bolton last night.
‘Thank you to emergency services for your brave response.
‘I have spoken with AFC Tony Hunter who is in charge at the scene, and we are doing everything to ensure they have all the required support.’
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn added in a tweet: ‘Thank you to the 40 fire crews who tackled the #BoltonFire and the emergency services who treated people at the student accommodation.
‘If reports are correct and flammable cladding contributed to the fire, it shows the government’s shameful inaction since Grenfell.’
Stunned students shared videos of the fire on social media and said they had been informed that they would be housed in other student accommodation temporarily.
The Cube, which is owned by Urban Student Life, claims to offer ‘both spacious luxury studios and en-suite cluster flats’ in the centre of Bolton.
University of Bolton student Shannon Parker, 22, lives in the building.
She said: ‘I was in my room whilst it was happening. I heard the fire alarm going off but it kept on going off so I just thought it was a drill at first until one of my flatmates shouted down the corridor that it was a real fire.
Fire ripped through the student building in Bolton. Students were evacuated to a hotel close to the incident
The block of luxury student flats was wrecked by fire after flames rapidly spread ‘up the cladding’
‘So I ran out the flat as quickly as I could and I saw that it was one of the flats below mine and we went out by the fire exit.’
She said she was being relocated to either a nearby hotel or another student accommodation building.
Another student said on social media: ‘My Bolton student accommodation is on fire. I am safe just sad that my belongings are in there! But the main thing is I’m out and I’m safe.’
Professor George E Holmes DL, President and Vice Chancellor of Bolton University, said: ‘Supporting the welfare of our students is our number one priority and we have moved swiftly to assist in any way we can.
‘University colleagues have worked through the night to make sure support is in place for students over the weekend.
‘We have assisted in ensuring students have been given temporary alternative accommodation at the Orlando student halls and in some Bolton hotels.
‘We have also arranged to provide necessities such as toiletries for all students affected and are opening the University over the weekend so students can be supported. We will also provide food for them.
‘I would like to stress that The Cube is not owned by the University of Bolton. It is owned and managed by a private landlord and the students were not on our premises when during this incident.’
How the student accommodation block looked prior to the fire. Two years ago students were reassured The Cube did not have the same cladding as the dangerous material coating Grenfell Tower, where 72 people died in June 2017
Around the country, people have offered support to those affected by the Bolton fire this evening
Incumbent Labour candidate for Bolton South East, Yasmin Qureshi, warned people to stay away from the area and said she would be in contact with the emergency services.
She said on Twitter last night: ‘There is an ongoing incident in Bolton town centre and the emergency services are asking people to stay away from the area for the time being. I will be liaising with the police and fire services to stay informed of developments.’
Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government, Robert Jenrick, tweeted to say officials were ready to offer assistance if required.
Dozens of locals have expressed their sympathies to those affected by the blaze.
Natasha Watson, writing on Twitter, said: ‘Hope everyone round the corner from me here in Bolton is safe can’t believe i can see the fire from my flat, looks absolutely terrifying, hoping everyone is out safely!’
While another said: ‘The Cube – student accommodation at Bolton on fire! Praying everyone is safe.’
Around the country, others have offered support.
Luke Beech said: ‘The fire in Bolton right now looks horrendous, hoping everyone is safe. Balmoral pub and Premier Inn are apparently taking people in.
‘If you’re local, offer what you can to those who need. There are a lot of students scared away from home who need help.’
And Mike Claridge said: ‘Bolton student accommodation fire looks serious. Cladding falling in flames and whole block looks on fire in videos on Twitter. Hoping and praying all were able to get out.’
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