Families in Willenhall are forced to flee as fire hits flats

Families had to leave their homes when flames engulfed a block of flats.

Scene following fire to flats, at Willenhall Road, Wolverhampton.

Families had to leave their homes when flames engulfed a block of flats.

The building may now have to be demolished. Around 50 firefighters tackled flames at the block in Wolverhampton as plumes of smoke billowed into the sky.

Experts were meeting today to decide how to deal with the block, which was made structural unsound by the fire.

The blaze has affected up to 12 flats, near Willenhall Road’s junction with Hurstbourne Crescent.

At least five were damaged by fire and the rest by smoke.

Many of the homes were unoccupied, but it is understood that about 11 people had to be found temporary accomodation.

The fire started at about 4pm on Saturday, and firefighters were still pumping water into the building today from outside, using hydraulic platforms as they were unable get inside.

Steve Harris, station commander for Bournbrook and duty press officer for the blaze, said that, at its height, there were eight fire engines on site and around 50 firefighters.

Mr Harris said: “We had about 10 firefighters in the building when we decided it wasn’t safe for them to be in there.”

He said that families who were forced to leave their homes were found temporary accommodation.

And he added that the blaze had made the building structurally unsound because flames had spread through the space between two-layered wooden walls.

Mr Harris said the cause of the blaze had been confirmed as “accidental” by fire investigators.

Angela Gent, aged 34, who lives across the road from the flats, said she had smelled burning at 4pm on Saturday and came out of her house.

She said: “We could see smoke but no flames.

“There was a couple that had been evacuated who had a seven-week old baby.”

Stephen Jones, 55, of Hurstbourne Crescent, said smoke from the blaze had set his flat’s fire alarm off “despite being 250 yards away”.

Colin Newton, station commander in charge of the scene, said: “We’ve scaled down to two pumps and a hydraulic platform.

“At the moment we are checking for hotspots and putting them out from the hydraulic platform as we still can’t get inside.

“There are not lots of hotspots in the building. We have inspected using our thermal imaging cameras and there appears to be a clean break between the affected area of the building and the unaffected area.

“Hopefully following the meeting the decision will be made to leave it with council engineers but I can’t confirm that yet.

“I think the decision will be taken to collapse the building. I don’t think it will collapse by itself.

“We’ve made really good progress overnight.”

The flats were the scene of a huge fire five years ago, while they were still under construction.

The Persimmon development in Willenhall Road was set ablaze in a suspected arson attack in March 2007.

Several homes nearby had to be doused with water by firefighters worried that they could also catch fire, after the timber frame of the new apartment block went up in flames.

Only the scaffolding supporting the structure, which has only been under construction for a matter of weeks, was left standing.

Ten fire crews fought the blaze at the development and firefighters hosed down roofs of neighbouring homes.