The devastating fire which engulfed The Cube was started by a discarded cigarette, it has been revealed.

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) has for the first time disclosed the full horror of the "unpredictable" blaze, which was just seconds away from claiming lives ­— with one person rescued just as her flat was engulfed by the fire.

Read more: Watch: New footage shows how quickly The Cube fire spread

An incident report, published today, found many lives were saved by the "full and immediate evacuation" of The Cube. 

It was thanks to procedures developed and tested by Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster ­— meaning that despite the "very intense" flames no serious injuries were reported and all 217 residents were accounted for.

The findings concluded the fire was accidental and was caused by a discarded cigarette.

What happened on the night

The fire broke out at the seven storey mainly student accommodation complex in Bradshawgate on the night of November 15 last year.

Fire officers noted they saw "abnormal fire behaviour with signs of rapid external fire spread".

At its peak, 130 firefighters were engaged in tackling the incident on Bradshawgate in the town centre ­— with the fire service putting out a recall to duty.

The Bolton News:

Within the first 30 minutes crews rescued two people trapped in their flats by fire, heat and smoke.

One woman was rescued from a sixth floor window.

The intensity of the fire "comprised" the safety of firefighters, who were told to "withdraw".

The report states: "Firefighters attending the scene were faced with rapidly developing and unpredictable fire spread.

"Burning debris falling from the sixth foor, collected within the recessed façade of the building at ground level, developing further seats of fire. This was particularly noticeable in the atrium area between the north stairwell and the accommodation. The fire then spread upwards, causing large amounts of radiant heat from roof level."

The Bolton News:

Following the report today, Metro Mayor Andy Burnham said the blaze highlighted the dangers cladding on buildings.

Jim Wallace, Chief Fire Officer at Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, said: “The speed with which the fire took hold and the devastating impact it had on the building was immense. I want to place on record my appreciation of the actions of all who responded to the fire at The Cube.

"Our firefighters and incident command team worked in a high risk and rapidly developing environment and showed professionalism, effectiveness and dedication throughout.

“The reason we are publishing The Cube Incident Report is to share our experiences and what we learned with our partners and across the emergency services family to help them develop and review their own plans to deal with this type of major incident.

"Whilst there were no serious injuries, the way the fire spread rapidly was vast and although we did a number of things well we can always learn from reviewing and refining."

Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, added: “What this report also shows is that, on the night in question, Greater Manchester’s fire resources were stretched to the very limit.

"I will be sending a copy of this report to the Home Secretary and urging her to recognise that there can be no further reductions Government funding for fire services without putting communities at serious risk.

“The incident at The Cube also brought home the danger of leaving flammable cladding on buildings. It is essential that the Government puts in a place a programme of work to remove dangerous cladding from all buildings without any resident having to foot the bill.”

The Bolton News:

Tony Hunter, Assistant Chief Fire Officer for GMFRS, said: “ We had learned many lessons from the terrible tragedy at Grenfell Tower in the summer of 2017 and applied that learning to our own emergency response procedures.

“On the night of The Cube fire, GMFRS had already implemented training whereby all firefighters understood the risk of fire taking hold in the external walls of high-rise buildings and knew how to recognise it when it occurred. Our firefighters were also trained to actively monitor and respond to signs of a building that is failing in fire.”

Bolton Council played a key role in supporting people following the fire. The council leader, chief executive and staff were mobilised immediately and implemented the local authority’s civil contingencies’ emergency plan.

Cllr David Greenhalgh, Leader of Bolton Council, said: “We are extremely proud of Bolton’s response to this devastating fire.

“I saw the fire unfold first-hand and witnessed the sheer bravery of all the firefighters.

“The council was a key partner in managing the response ­— our staff were on site immediately and helping with the recovery for weeks after the incident.

“I also want to pay tribute to the professionalism of all the partners involved ­— particularly the university, their fantastic student ambassadors, the housing associations who manage neighbouring accommodation and voluntary organisations who helped in the aftermath.”

The Greater Manchester High Rise Task Force, was set up by Andy Burnham as Mayor of Greater Manchester in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster.

In February, the Manchester Cladiators, the High Rise Task Force and the Mayor and Salford City Mayor arranged a lobby of Parliament attended by residents from high rises across the country, high-profile politicians outside Parliament to highlight the scale of the problem and call on Government to do more.

Chair of the High Rise Task Force, Salford City Mayor Paul Dennett, said: “Since 2018, GMFRS, the High Rise Task Force and industry experts have been warning Government that its focus on Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) was too narrow and that other cladding systems including high-pressure laminate also posed a significant risk in relation to external fire spread.

“The serious situation that developed in Bolton in November, and the more recent fire in a high-rise residential building in Manchester city centre in May which thankfully was quickly extinguished, show that the safety of high rise buildings remains a very real concern. For residents, this is compounded during the current coronavirus crisis as many are staying at home as much as possible to protect themselves and others. In Greater Manchester we have repeatedly called on Government to do more to address this national industrial crisis and to support residents. As GMFRS shares its learning from this incident I hope that the Government will do more to ensure all buildings with fire safety deficiencies are made safe and that the fire service is properly funded to respond to these significant and challenging incidents."