The Cube building in Bolton caught fire on Friday evening, with the six storey building seeing fire spread ‘extremely rapidly’, and it was later confirmed to have been clad in high pressure laminate (HPL).
The Guardian reported that the fire, in which two people were injured, began on the fourth floor, and saw the top floor ‘gutted’ and the fourth and fifth floors ‘visibly damaged’, with 200 Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) firefighters and 40 appliances required to fight it ‘at its height’. Over 100 students were evacuated and accounted for, with eyewitnesses stating that the fire was ‘crawl[ing] up the cladding like it was nothing’.
Witnesses also noted that the fire ‘quickly exposed’ the building’s frame, was ‘climbing up and to the right’ due to wind, and was ‘bubbling from the outside and then being engulfed from the outside’. The fire was also described as having grown ‘like crazy’ and spreading ‘so rapidly’, while reports claimed that fire alarms in some flats ‘were not loud enough’.
Students stated that fire alarms ‘go off almost every day’ in the building, which led to confusion ‘over whether it was a drill or a false alarm’. GMFRS had requested a fire safety assessment in 2018, including an assessment of the cladding, with ‘unspecified’ works undertaken – according to council records, the building was reclad with HPL in 2018.
GMFRS assistant chief fire officer Dave Keelan said that footage showed that the blaze developed ‘exponentially’, adding: ‘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. 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.
‘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.’
The government was ‘accused of downplaying the fire risk’ of the material ‘and of refusing help to worried residents of other affected buildings’, while The Guardian pointed out that it had learned that government officials were ‘dismissing pleas’ for removal of HPL ‘as recently as a fortnight ago’.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government denied it ‘had been slow to tackle the risk’, responding: ‘Building owners must ensure their tenants can live safely in their homes and this means all cladding systems, including HPL, that do not conform to our strict building safety standards must be removed. We made clear that we agree with the Hackitt review and have committed to implementing its recommendations in a new building safety bill.’
Grenfell campaign group Grenfell United, representing survivors and the bereaved, called for the declaration of a national emergency over the government’s perceived ‘lack of action’, stating: ‘It brings back memories of Grenfell and we can’t believe that over two and a half years later this is happening. Our hearts go out to all the students affected. Hundreds of people go to bed scared every night in buildings covered with dangerous materials. When will this be treated as a national emergency? This cannot go on.’