More than 200 firefighters battled flames through the night as the fire tore through all six floors of The Cube private university accommodation.
Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) sent 40 engines to the scene after the blaze broke out at about 8.30pm on Friday. Paramedics treated two people at the scene, including one person who was rescued by crews via an aerial platform.
Six fire crews still at the scene on Saturday morning tackling “the last few fighting pockets of fire” in the building, which was evacuated as the flames spread.
Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said most of the block’s residents had been accounted for but “not everyone”.
One witness said they saw the fire “crawl up the cladding like it was nothing”.
Ace Love, 35, added: “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, who lives in the building, described fleeing her flat as flames tore through the block.
She 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.
“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.
Authorities have asked anyone who was living at or visiting The Cube to register at the nearby Orlando Village student accommodation facility.
“We have divided the fire itself into four sectors of firefighting, allowing us to target our efforts on particular hotspots,” GMFRS area manager Jim Hutton said.
“While the building does remain on fire, we are doing all we can to stay on top of this situation and soon extinguish the flames.”
Lost everything in the #boltonfire lucky that we got out after false alarms constantly for weeks I heard screaming and decided to check it out had to scream at my flat mates it was a real fire if anyone tries to tell me that no-one is at fault and it was safe they’re wrong. pic.twitter.com/lNMn991ZTH— Elise Millward (@mr_elise__)November 16, 2019
Assistant chief fire officer Tony Hunter praised crews for stopping the blaze from spreading to other buildings, and for controlling the fire “in very challenging circumstances”.
Mr Burnham said the fire service had “implemented one of their own learnings from Grenfell” by sending a second command team to deal specifically with the evacuation of the building.
Jeremy Corbyn also linked the blaze to the Grenfell Tower fire, in which 72 people died after flammable cladding allowed flames to tear rapidly through the west London block.
The Labour leader said: “If reports are correct and flammable cladding contributed to the [Bolton] fire, it shows the government’s shameful inaction since Grenfell.”
GMFRS sought to reassure residents living in tower blocks, in particular those which had been identified as having potentially dangerous cladding, and reminded residents to familiarise themselves with their building’s evacuation strategy.
Secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, Robert Jenrick, said in a tweet that the government was were ready to offer assistance to those affected by the Bolton fire.
“While it is too early to speculate on the cause of the fire, we will be following [GMFRS’] investigation very closely,” he wrote. “I have asked building safety experts, BRE to attend and support [GMFRS] and report urgently.”
The University of Bolton‘s vice-chancellor, Professor George Holmes, said: “Supporting the welfare of our students is our number one priority and we have moved swiftly to assist in any way we can.”
“University colleagues have worked through the night to make sure support is in place for students over the weekend.
“We have assisted in ensuring students have been given temporary alternative accommodation at the Orlando student halls and in some Bolton hotels.
“We have also arranged to provide necessities such as toiletries for all students affected and are opening the University over the weekend so students can be supported. We will also provide food for them.
“I would like to stress that The Cube is not owned by the University of Bolton. It is owned and managed by a private landlord and the students were not on our premises when during this incident.”
Additional reporting by PA