fire uk student bolton

Image of the blaze at The Cube student accommodation, Bolton
Two people have been injured in a large fire at a student accommodation building in Bolton amid rising concern that the cladding on the building may have contributed to the blaze.

Firefighters worked to extinguish the fire on the top floors of a six-storey building known as the Cube on Bradshawgate from about 8.30pm on Friday, with one witness describing the fire as "crawl[ing] up the cladding like it was nothing".

Paramedics treated two people at the scene, including one person rescued by crews via an aerial platform, as about 200 firefighters and 40 fire engines worked to tackle the blaze at its height.

Crews remained at the scene on Saturday morning to put out the "last few fighting pockets of fire" in the evacuated building.

Students at the Cube had been visited by fire safety officers following the Grenfell Tower fire and assured that the building was not clad in the same material, the Bolton News reported.

However, the planned cladding materials on one part of the facade included aluminium composite panels (ACM) or fibre cement panels, and high pressure laminated panels (HPL) fixed to timber battens on another, according to drawings submitted by RADM Architects to Bolton's planning department in 2014. It is not yet clear which of these materials were used.

ACM panels are filled with polyethylene, which, as at Grenfell, can be highly combustible or can contain a fire retardant to make them safer. HPL panels, made of compressed paper or wood fibre, also come with different combustibility ratings.

In July, the government's expert panel on fire safety called on building owners to remove types of the material that did not adequately resist the spread of fire on buildings over 18 storeys.

Videos on social media appeared to show the fire rapidly spreading up the facade of the Cube, and witnesses said the blaze exposed the frame of the building.

"The fire kept getting more intense, climbing up and to the right because the wind was blowing so hard," Ace Love, 35, said. "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."

Urban Student Life, the company that runs the student accommodation, which was previously operated by DIGS student accommodation following its conversion from offices in 2015, was suspended from a national code of providers in 2016 for a year after the opening of a new development in Leeds was held up by almost three months, according to the National Union of Students (NUS).

Students then faced significant delays in receiving rent refunds and, once the building was complete, no fire safety guidance was provided, the NUS said. Such suspensions are said to be extremely rare, and the tribunal rarely meets.

Shannon Parker, 22, a University of Bolton student who lives in the building, 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.