The leader of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has called for a “complete overhaul” of fire safety standards after block of student flats in Bolton was gutted by fire on Friday.
Eyewitnesses described watching flames “crawling up the cladding” of The Cube, a six-storey student accommodation building “like it was nothing” after the blaze broke out at around 8.30pm on Friday.
Matt Wrack, the FBU general secretary, described the way in which the fire appeared to travel as “deeply troubling”.
He said: “My congratulations go to the crews on the ground who did amazing work in incredibly difficult circumstances. 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.”
Two people were injured in the incident and had to be treated at the scene by paramedics, including one person who was rescued from the block, on Bradshawgate, by Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) firefighters on an aerial platform.
A spokesman said more than 40 fire engines were still at the scene early on Saturday morning tackling “the last few fighting pockets of fire” in the building, which had been evacuated.
Ace Love, 35, told the PA news agency: “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.”
University of Bolton student Shannon Parker, 22, lives in the building.
She told PA: “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.
“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.
In the wake of the news, serious questions have been raised about the safety of the building after video footage emerged on social media of the flames climbing the cladding of the building.
Unsafe cladding contributed significantly to the worsening of the fire at Grenfell Tower in June 2017, which killed 72 people.
Firefighters investigating the Bolton fire said the building’s cladding was not the same as that which had been on Grenfell Tower, however said that what started as a small fire had spread to the upper part of the building “within minutes”.
An aluminium cladding filled with plastic was used on Grenfell, but other types of cladding have also been identified as potentially dangerous. Wooden cladding present on a block of flats was investigated in June after a fire partially destroyed the building.
Politicians took to social media on Saturday morning to express their anger over the Bolton fire, with Jeremy Corbyn stating that “if reports are correct and flammable cladding contributed to the fire, it shows the government’s shameful inaction since Grenfell.”