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The fire that recently swept through a Portland street building, resulting in the loss of two lives, is now thought to have been started deliberately.
By Benjamin Francis Cassidy
On 25th November, it was confirmed by the emergency services that two men had perished in a fire in China Town, the news highlighting the severity of Manchester’s growing homelessness crisis. While the initial assumption was that the two men were seeking refuge from the bitter cold, and perhaps fell asleep in the building whilst smoking, recent reports have suggested that the fire may have been started deliberately.
The fire was first reported around 2.15am in a building that had fallen out of use. There was no knowledge of anyone being inside when the fire crews arrived and things stayed this way until between 6am and 7am, when reports of people being inside were heard from an unnamed source. The loss of life was later confirmed by Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, following a team entering and bodies being discovered with the help of a sniffer dog.
It has since come to light that the two victims were James Evans, 57 and Wayne Bardsley, 51. Evans was affectionately known locally as Popeye, whilst Bardsley was nicknamed Uncle Albert. Both were identified by family members. Evans’ daughter, Leighann Kay Evans, who lives in Dublin, described her deceased father in the Manchester Evening News as a “jolly person”, and a “nice and happy man who loved his family.” She explained that the two men became friends after meeting on the streets, and Evan’s taking Bardsley under his wing when he was bullied. She wasn’t in regular contact with her father, but had spoken to him relatively recently.
Police are appealing for witnesses who may have been around the building after midnight, and believe that members of the homeless community might hold vital clues to help in the investigation. The Major Incident Team’s spokesperson, Detective Chief Inspector Amber Waywell, stated, “This incident could be suspicious.” She asked the public to come forward, explaining, “Anything you know, no matter how insignificant it may seem, could be vital.”
Such was the severity of the fire, that over 50 firefighters were involved in tackling the flames. They eventually managed to control the fire, but not before the roof of the building collapsed, following severe structural damage. It is not known whether the deaths occurred from the collapse, or from smoke inhalation. The building is apparently registered to a company in Hong Kong.
Tributes were posted on Facebook in honour of the two men, one well wisher calling the two men “Belting blokes”, and asserting that they will be “Missed by all.” The admiration continued, with the well-wisher, who appeared to speak as a representative for others, concluding, “Sleep tight gentlemen, we love and miss you, alas the angels will look after you both now.
Leighann Evans has set up a GoFundMe page to raise the funds for her father’s body to be flown home to Ireland for a family funeral.
Anyone with information should call police on 101, quoting incident number 146 of 25th November 2016, or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111