A six-storey student residential building, The Cube, housing over 220 students, in Bolton UK, suffered a major fire on 15th November 2019. Fortunately, no major injuries or casualties were incurred. The fire is indicated to have started in a kitchen on the fourth floor, and to have spread rapidly through external cladding materials to the fifth and sixth floors. The cladding is said to be HPL (high pressure laminate). The Manchester Tab stated that the HPL cladding was not fire resistant because the building was just 16 cm short of the 18 metre “tall building” height for which requirements are applicable in the UK. Fire services are pushing for this limit to be reduced to 11 m, compatible with rescue ladders. Inside Housing stated that the cladding “probably” included a non fire retardant version of a polymer film, a product which is also available with fire retardant versions. If correct, this illustrates the problem that fire-protected materials are today available, but that architects or builders are choosing not to use them so putting life and property in danger, in this case because of the absence of applicable fire safety requirements.
“Bolton fire: combustible membrane pictured behind cladding on student halls” https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/news/news/bolton-fire-combustible-membrane-pictured-behind-cladding-on-student-halls-64247
“Bolton Cube didn’t have fire-resistant cladding because it was 16cm too short” https://thetab.com/uk/manchester/2019/11/28/bolton-cube-cladding-45275
“Fire services to probe cladding role in Bolton blaze” http://www.constructionmanagermagazine.com/news/fire-services-probe-cladding-role-bolton-student-b/