A huge fire broke out in the early hours of Friday morning in a building on Nicholas Street, lighting up Chinatown’s imperial arch.
The fire, inside a commercial building, started at around 02:15 GMT, according to Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue.
Police later confirmed that two bodies were found on the first floor of the building.
Manchester Borough Manager Paul Etches speaking to the media at the scene said the deceased are believed to be homeless. Adding that the building is very unsafe and has been unoccupied and has been for some time.
Police have suggested it is possible the fire may have been started in the building for warmth. The building is known locally to often be inhabited by the homeless. However the police stress that the investigation into the incident has only just started.
Chief Inspector Gareth Parkin, said: “These are tragic circumstances and we working to identify the people who were found in the building.
“A joint investigation with GMFRS is in its early stages and we will be carrying out a number of enquiries to establish how this fire started.”
Councillor Paul Andrews, executive member for adult health and wellbeing for Manchester city council said in response to the news: “This is tragic and shocking news and our hearts go out to those affected by it.
“Our message to anyone who is sleeping rough is please come and access the help and support available. We will find you somewhere safe to stay.”
Amanda Croome, manager of Manchester’s Booth Centre, which offers advice and support for rough sleepers, speaking to the Manchester Evening News said she was stunned by the tragedy.
She told the MEN: “If it is confirmed that the people who were in the building were homeless it is completely awful. I hope that they find the families and are able to break the news to them in a sensitive way.
“Our thoughts are with those families of those people. Dealing with homelessness in the city has got to be a priority. We have all got to work together.
“It is not about attributing blame. The reasons for homelessness are complex. It is never just one problem and never just one solution. But there is just an urgent need to end homelessness in Manchester because more of these type of situations will occur.”
Rough sleeping has dominated headlines over the past few years, with the numbers of homeless increasing dramatically. The most recent official figures by council officials, counted 70 rough sleepers on one night. The reality is believed to be much worse.
Roads were closed around the area, as a fleet of fire engines were needed to tackle the blaze, causing traffic chaos throughout Friday morning.Photo: Junaid Ali Bokhari
The fire has been brought under control, but a spokesperson from Greater Manchester fire and rescue service confirmed the building has “severe damage” although “no further fire damage to other buildings is expected”.
Bus services were severely affected, with both Stagecoach and First Manchester unable to serve Piccadilly Gardens, causing congestion for students attempting to get in from Fallowfield and Black Friday shoppers.
Portland street was closed between Charlotte Street and Princess Street, until around 10.30 Friday morning.
Phil Nelson, group manager of Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue, confirmed that the use of “two aerial appliances” were used to contain “the fire” and prevent the “spread to other buildings”.
Due to falling debris at the scene, the fire crew were forced to keep back from the severely damaged multi-storey commercial building.
The fire brigade said the blaze was contained by about 6am.
Greater Manchester Police are urging anyone with information about the incident to come forward.
This article was updated at 15.53am after new developments.