Don’t let this happen again

Flames at the Wharfside flat fire. Photo supplied by Stuart Alker
Flames at the Wharfside flat fire. Photo supplied by Stuart Alker

Two years to the day since an inferno, thought to have been caused by a disposable grill left on a balcony, ripped through canalside apartments at Wigan Pier, a fresh alert was sounded by fire chiefs.

Today is also a month to the day since the London Grenfell Tower blaze which claimed dozens of lives and has heightened concerns over the safety of high rises.

Fire at Wharfside Appartments at Trencherfield Mill, Wigan - 14th June 2015

Fire at Wharfside Appartments at Trencherfield Mill, Wigan - 14th June 2015

As terrified people fled the blaze at the Wharfside apartments in the early hours of June 14, the finger was pointed squarely at an unattended barbecue that had been left to burn out of control on a top- floor balcony.

New safety concerns were raised about having barbecues in tower blocks were raised by Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service last night after reporting that they had been blamed for two blazes at high rises in Greater Manchester in the last two weeks alone.

Neither was anywhere near as serious at the horrific Grenfell Tower inferno in London last month which claimed at least 80 lives, but that tragedy now looms large over the safety of similar buildings.

Mercifully, everyone escaped unscathed from the Wharfside premises too but it caused extensive damage, not least because they were made substantially out of recyclables, including wood. It meant that the flames took several days to douse completely and that thousands of gallons completely swamped a large section of the building.

Wigan folk rose magnificently to the occasion, donating food and drink and offering accommodation to those left homeless. A large section of the flats had to be demolished and re-built and it was more than a year before everyone could move back in.

Following two more flat fires caused by barbecues this month Dave Baxter from GMFRS said: “Please only use barbecues somewhere flat, away from anything flammable and especially not on a surface that will catch fire. Always keep a bucket of water nearby just in case the barbecue gets out of hand and check barbecues are fully extinguished before leaving your flat or going to bed.

“Using a barbecue in your high rise building may invalidate your lease and cause significant damage to yours and others property. On these occasions crews quickly tackled the blaze before it had chance to spread, but in previous cases people have had to leave their homes for significant periods of time. Don’t make this same mistake.”

In both of the recent incidents, crews used thermal imaging cameras and other specialist gear to ensure the fires were completely out.

Coun David Acton, chairman of GMFRS’s fire committee, said: “The consequences of these fires could have been a lot worse than they were.

“It is astonishing that people do not follow basic fire safety and put lives at risk by not taking care and using common sense.

“Our firefighters have done a fantastic job to keep these incidents as small as they were.”

A thorough investigation was carried out by GMFRS specialist officers into what might have caused the Wharfside blaze on Heritage Way which, at its height, was tackled by up to 100 firefighters and 15 vehicles.

Plenty of the 200 residents who were evacuated from the 132 flats had their theories and claims.

Several months later though, the inquiry ended with little conclusive about what was to blame, although a barbecue on a landing could not be ruled out.

The investigators were, however, able to say that the cause was not deliberate but accidental.