Bolton fire investigation continues

Bolton fire investigation continues

INVESTIGATORS HAVE reportedly ‘ruled out’ arson as a cause for the fire in November, and believe smoking materials ‘thrown outside a flat onto a landing’ caused the fire.

The six storey Cube building caught fire last Friday evening, seeing fire spread ‘extremely rapidly’. Two people were injured in the fire which began on the fourth floor, saw the top floor ‘gutted’ and the fourth and fifth floors ‘visibly damaged’, with 200 GMFRS firefighters and 40 appliances required to fight it ‘at its height’.

Over 100 students were evacuated, with eyewitnesses stating that the fire was ‘crawl[ing] up the cladding like it was nothing’, had ‘quickly exposed’ the building’s frame, and had been ‘climbing up and to the right’ due to wind, flames ‘bubbling from the outside and then being engulfed from the outside’. It 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 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 a cladding assessment, with ‘unspecified’ works undertaken – according to council records, it was reclad with high pressure laminate (HPL) in 2018.

Manchester Evening News reported it ‘understands’ arson has been ruled out as a cause by investigators, and that smoking materials discarded on a landing ‘triggered’ the fire, with the incident now regarded an accident. It also understands the investigation ‘will also examine’ the combustibility of balconies on each of the upper floors, which were made from composite materials ‘and made to appear like wood’.

The fitting of the cladding and the ‘nature of the insulation’ are also set to be an ‘integral part’ of the investigation, though investigators ‘believe a discarded cigarette caused the fire’. It added that this ‘could have potentially huge implications for housing across the country’, specifically relating to the HPL cladding’s role in the fire’s spread, with concerns at government level meaning ‘potentially many buildings’ UK wide not classed as high rises ‘could be potentially dangerous’.

As a result, the government’s new protection board – chaired by the National Fire Chiefs Council – will discuss the case, having already taken responsibility for the 318 UK buildings still clad in aluminium composite material (ACM). Manchester Evening News also noted that 79 high rises in Greater Manchester ‘do not meet adequate’ fire safety standards, with at least 30 of these clad in ACM.

Richard Batte, director of Assent, the building control company which signed off the Cube, stated: ‘We were shocked to see the speed at which the devastating fire spread through the Cube building in Bolton on Friday night 15th November 2019. Our first concern was for the safety of the occupants and our thoughts are with those coming to terms with the loss of their homes and possessions and recovering from the trauma of the fire.

‘Assent worked on the Cube in consultation with the fire service and alongside designers, constructors and clients to ensure compliance with Building Regulations. Following the fire, Assent has been undertaking a detailed review of the project. Our initial findings are that, for a building of this height, the requirements in place at the time relating to cladding combustibility were satisfactorily met.

‘The building regulations submission was received on 15 November 2013 and the final certificate issued on 26th February 2016. We will continue with our investigations into the details of the case in conjunction with government, fire service and the design and construction team in an effort to understand how this might contribute to the national debate on Building a Safer Future.’