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

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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.

Handout videograb of the fire after it had just started on the top floors of a student accommodation building in Bolton, Greater Manchester. The fire eventually spread and engulfed the entire six-storey building. Picture: Rafaela Nunes/PA Wire

Handout videograb of the fire after it had just started on the top floors of a student accommodation building in Bolton, Greater Manchester. The fire eventually spread and engulfed the entire six-storey building. Picture: Rafaela Nunes/PA Wire

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 "crawl[ing] up the cladding like it was nothing", told the PA news agency: "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.

"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."

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."

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."