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Families counting cost of devastating fires after record heat

The scene after a blaze in the village of Wennington (PA)
The scene after a blaze in the village of Wennington (PA)

Families are counting the cost of devastating fires amid record temperatures as the country is warned it needs to prepare for more extreme heat in the future.

Major fire incidents were declared in London, Norfolk, Suffolk, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and South Yorkshire amid the tinder-dry conditions as temperatures climbed above 40C for the first time ever on Tuesday.

London Fire Brigade (LFB) had its busiest day since the Second World War as record temperatures led to hundreds of fires across the capital, with the service taking 2,670 calls.

Summer weather July 20th 2022
The scene after a blaze in the village of Wennington (Aaron Chown/PA)

There were no deaths but more than 40 houses and shops were destroyed after a number of significant grass fires spread to nearby buildings, including in Wennington, Dagenham and Kenton, LFB said.

Claire Taylor, 40, lost all but her grandfather’s ashes, some photos and clothes when Wennington went up in flames on Tuesday.

Her family was one of around 90 to be evacuated in Havering, and while residents sought to rescue pets and salvage belongings some were forced to flee largely empty-handed.

Ms Taylor, who works in a charity shop, said residents who had lost their homes were still in shock but “trying to muddle through”.

Summer weather July 19th 2022
Firefighters at the scene of a blaze in the village of Wennington (Yui Mok/PA)

Although the devastation is still “raw”, her focus has turned to collecting donations and helping children affected by the fire, she said.

Her family – including her own sons, Charlie, Alfie and Louie, aged eight, six and one respectively – stayed with loved ones on Tuesday evening before heading to school on Wednesday for the last day of term.

“This should be the start of the six weeks’ holiday. It should be all exciting,” she said.

“We know we’re not the only ones in that situation, so if I can try and get some awareness out there – to let them know there is somewhere they can take stuff, like cots and buggies, to make someone’s life a little bit easier, to put a smile of their little kiddies’ faces – that would mean the world to me.”

Donations can be made at the KidEco shop at Lakeside Shopping Centre in Grays or to Baby Bank HQ.

Jon Cruddas, Labour MP for Dagenham and Rainham, warned the fires in his constituency were unlikely to be a one-off due to climate change.

He said around 40 homes had been destroyed in Dagenham, adding: “It’s been traumatic both for families and for the communities.

“The evidence suggests this is not a one-off. It’s going to be a recurring feature of modern life given the escalating climactic conditions.”

Meanwhile, the worst incident in South Yorkshire on Tuesday was on Woodland Drive in Barnsley, where six houses were devastated when a fire broke out in a back garden and swept through nearby properties.

Residents described how they battled the flames with hosepipes for 45 minutes until fire crews arrived in a desperate attempt to stop the blaze spreading to more homes.

In South Yorkshire, there were serious blazes in Barnsley and Clayton, while firefighters in Norfolk were called to more than 80 incidents on Tuesday.

Summer weather July 20th 2022
The scene after a blaze in Barnsley, South Yorkshire (Dave Higgens/PA)

Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service said it was called to more than 60 incidents, 38 of which were fires in the open, describing the situation as “unprecedented”.

Bosses at West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, which came close to calling a major incident, warned the situation across the country on Tuesday would not be a one-off and the UK needed to “get prepared”.

Deputy Chief Fire Officer Dave Walton said Tuesday was “a game changer”, adding: “Fires were spreading much more quickly than ever before.”

He said that usually when a big fire happened, it was possible to call on neighbouring services to help, but on Tuesday “everyone was busy and completely stacked out”.

“The predictions are we will get heatwaves like this much more regularly, even as much as every three years, due to climate change.

“This is very different position we are in now compared to a one-off event nearly 50 years ago, and we need to see this as a wake-up call.

“We need to learn how we get prepared as a country for this and how we rethink the resource we have or need, going forward, so we are ready for these, so homes, property and ultimately people’s lives are saved,” he warned.

The UK recorded a new provisional high temperature of 40.3C in Coningsby, Lincolnshire, on Tuesday, outstripping the previous record set in Cambridge in 2019 of 38.7.

People can expect much cooler temperatures on Thursday with a high of 25C expected, probably towards the south of the country, before temperatures are set to rise again at the weekend with 31C or 32C possible in East Anglia or Cambridgeshire.

Met Office forecaster Alex Burkill said unsettled weather is on the way too with some heavy thundery rain expected in the north west on Saturday which will become more widespread on Sunday.