We don’t know if our homes are still standing, say fire-hit London families

·5-min read
The Taylor family  (.)
The Taylor family (.)

The scale of the damage caused by the record-breaking heatwave emerged on Wednesday as Sadiq Khan said the London Fire Brigade had seen its busiest day since the Second World War.

The Mayor said 41 properties had been destroyed and 16 firefighters injured, including two who required hospital treatment, as wildfires were sparked across the “tinder-dry” capital in temperatures rising to 40C-plus.

Residents in the village of Wennington, near Rainham in east London, were on Wednesday morning trying to establish whether their homes were among as many as 18 feared to have been destroyed on Tuesday afternoon. A firefighter at the scene said it had been “absolute hell”, with the blaze spreading “fast”.

Wennington Fire: London Summer Heatwave 2022

One resident, Lary, with his wife Lijana and their daughter Amelija, was among those clustered at police cordons appealing for information.

He told the Standard: “We don’t know whether our house is still there. There was a gap between us and where the fire was blazing the most, so we have some hope. But it’s terrible not knowing. Our lives have been turned upside down. We have been told we cannot go to see because of the risk of gas leaks.”

Another resident, Aasam Ahmed, 38, said: “I live in Marine Cottages and I know the homes three or four doors down were destroyed. I have my fingers crossed that ours wasn’t.

“I was home yesterday. We just ran out and fled the area. My wife and I are now staying with family. We have let our insurers know and now it’s just the waiting game. It’s a total shock to be honest.”

A third resident said: “I do not know if my house is still standing, I know as much as what you see on TV. We live in hope but there is just so little information.”

Emergency services were meeting this morning to determine when it would be safe to allow residents back into the village.

Neighbours laid out food and water for those left homeless.

Friends set up a crowd-funding page for one family of five whose home was destroyed. Carly Mcnab, who set up the GoFundMe page for the Taylor family, said they had “lost everything — their home and all their lifelong possessions”. She wrote: “Naturally, they are absolutely heartbroken by the devastation and destruction caused by the fires and they now face a long journey to rebuild their lives.

“Claire and Antony have three young boys, aged eight, six and 18 months. Currently, two of the boys only have the clothes that they were wearing when they went to school before the tragic fire destroyed their family home.”

Elise Peterson, the vicar of Wennington Parish Church, spoke of her relief that the church had survived, following fears that it had been claimed by the fire.

“However, many of my parishioners have lost everything in the fire,” she said. “One man ran with his dogs and family and left everything behind — I don’t think he even had his phone.

“I’m trying to help people build back their lives. The villagers have a great spirit and are very positive. One of the villagers, Tim Stock, who lost everything, has been very, very philosophical, saying to me: ‘At least we are still alive.’”

On Tuesday night Mr Stock told the BBC that the fire “was like a scene from the Blitz — the War of the Worlds”. He added: “There was just windows popping out everywhere, explosions. It was pretty frightening, really. I’m just pleased there were no fatalities.”

Another local said: “I had to run for it. I just got out of there before the fire caught up with me.”

Janet Hickey, 70, who has terminal pancreatic cancer, said she was forced to leave all her cancer drugs behind as they were evacuated. Her husband Patrick Hickey, 71, said: “We had to leave everything. We’re hoping against hope that our house is still there.”


Mr Khan said many of the fires had started on grassland before spreading to homes or industrial buildings.

He pleaded with Londoners not to have barbecues or discard glass bottles, which can magnify the sun’s rays and spark a blaze. He told Sky News: “Yesterday was the busiest day for the fire service in London since the Second World War. On a normal day the fire service receives — roughly speaking — 350 calls, and on a busy day 500 calls. Yesterday they received more than 2,600 calls — more than a dozen simultaneous fires requiring 30 engines, a couple requiring 15, and some requiring 12. I’m afraid the bad news is 41 properties were destroyed in London.”

The brigade declared a major incident at about 2pm. Crews were taking 20 minutes to respond to calls rather than the target six minutes, such was the scale of demand. Both firefighters who needed hospital treatment have since been released home.

Mr Khan added: “It shows the consequences of climate change, with temperatures exceeding 40C. This is not normal. These are exceptional times. We can’t afford to have more of these days.”

The blazes included a “large-scale incident” on grassland in Pea Lane in Upminster that required 30 fire engines, while two people were taken to hospital suffering smoke inhalation following a fire in Dagenham.

Twelve fire engines responded to a fire involving garden fencing and trees in Uxbridge Road in Pinner. Ten engines were sent to a restaurant fire in Green Lanes, Southgate. Other fires broke out in Oaks Road and Chapel View in Croydon, The Broadway in Wembley, Sunningfields Crescent in Hendon and Sidcup Road in Eltham. Simon Clarke, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, told Sky News: “The Government will stand by people who need assistance. I know our local councils will be stepping up to look after people who’ve been affected across the country by fires, but clearly central government stands ready as always to step in as needed.”

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