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Scale of fires across London during heatwave unprecedented, says brigade chief

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and the London Fire Commissioner Andy Roe at a fire station in east London (Aaron Chown/PA)
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and the London Fire Commissioner Andy Roe at a fire station in east London (Aaron Chown/PA)

Devastating fires across the capital during the hottest temperatures on record were “unprecedented”, the head of London Fire Brigade has said, adding: “I saw stuff this week that I had not expected to see as a London firefighter.”

London Fire Commissioner Andy Roe met London Mayor Sadiq Khan at Plaistow Fire Station, east London, on Thursday to pay tribute to the work of firefighters during the extreme heat.

The mayor expressed pride in the “nimbleness” of the fire service, which saw its busiest day since the Second World War on Tuesday as a result of the extreme temperatures, with crews attending 1,146 incidents on that day alone.

Asked about the experience of the capital’s fire services over the course of the week, Mr Roe told the PA news agency: “I think the word I’d use is unprecedented.

“I’ve had a long operational career at some of the most significant incidents that London has seen in the past couple of decades but even with all that experience I saw stuff this week that I had not expected to see as a London firefighter.”

A total of 16 homes were lost in the large fire in Wennington, east London, and fire crews had to fight to save the fire station itself, located nearby, from the flames.

Mr Roe added: “From my point of view I think climate change has arrived. We saw fire conditions that I think we’ve previously seen in continental Europe in the south or the Americas.

“Extreme heat, so that 40C heat, does do something to firefighting. We are duty-bound to learn the lessons from that.”

He said the fire brigade sees climate change as “an increasing future threat”, and is “one of the most serious risks” to the capital.

Mr Roe said: “We have internal teams that are constantly looking at developing both equipment and procedures to meet all the conceivable different threats in this place, one of the most extraordinary cities in the world.

“We’re very much on the front foot with that and we are thinking about it.”

He warned Londoners that the risk of fire as a result of the heatwave had not gone away, saying: “I’d rather you weren’t barbecuing, I would want you to dispose of your cigarettes carefully.

The scene showing a burnt out car after a blaze in the village of Wennington, east London
A burnt out car after a blaze in the village of Wennington, east London (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

“Please do not drop glass objects into open land, manage yourself responsibly in public spaces because the ground is very dry, there’s a very high risk of fire.

“That risk has not gone away in London, and it won’t until there’s been very significant rain and we’ve got the ground saturated.

“So I would ask all Londoners to act responsibly and listen to our safety messages.”

Mr Khan said: “Our fire service has done an amazing job and I’m here to thank our brave firefighters for the job they’ve done.

“I think by a combination of their hard work but also the great citizenship of Londoners to go and warn their neighbours to allow them to leave their homes and places of work, nobody lost their lives thankfully because of the fires, no serious injuries, although 16 firefighters were injured, two of them had to be hospitalised, but I’m extremely grateful to the fire service and relieved the consequences weren’t even worse than they currently are.

“At the moment we have enough resources in relation to firefighters, appliances, kit and so forth.

“But if we have more regular heatwaves at this sort of level, if we have more regular flash flooding like we saw this time last year – that could happen again this year, then I’m really concerned about the ability of the fire service.”