Landlord Walter Martin was inside the pub Lennards in Wennington on Tuesday afternoon when he received a phone call from a neighbour asking whether the building was on fire.
“He said ‘There’s smoke coming out the back of your pub, have you got a fire’ and I said ‘No’,” the 61-year-old told The Independent.
“I walked the 400 metres down to the fire station and the first house I saw, the smoke was coming out.
“The fire jumped all over the place. A beautiful house, about 200 years old, it literally just went up.”
Mr Martin described how the tight-knit community desperately tried to fight the blaze as it rapidly spread.
“We are stubborn,” he said. “We were going try and put it out. There’s an old boy down there who saved his home – he refused to leave. He used a hose.
“The farmers were trying to hose down the grass and trees to stop it from reaching here and B&P metals had big tankers of water and they wet all the fields down and that stopped a lot of it.
“Everyone helped pitch in; all the young fellas got the hoses out and helped the firefighters roll them down the road when they arrived.”
Mr Martin, who was at Lennards with his wife and two daughters on Wednesday, said the pub’s cleaner Lynn was forced to evacuate her home with her husband, who has a lung condition.
“She just collapsed,” he said. “Everything is in her house. Her house is her castle.
“It’s devastating; you hear about it happening in places like Australia and California but you never expect it to be on your own doorstep. Fire is terrible. Fire is a wipe out.”
His daughter Tara Martin, 24, immediately flew back to London from Galway with her mother and younger sister when they learned of the fire. She believes the government should be doing more to tackle the climate crisis.
She told The Independent: “When I saw Lynn’s house on TV I came back for her and my Dad.
“Me and my sister just automatically locked eyes and said ‘It’s global warming, it’s the climate crisis’.
“This could’ve been avoided. This is a tiny town on the outskirts of London; this could’ve been avoided.”
One woman, who described the “apocalyptic” scene as she raced to rescue horses from her farm, said she only learned her house had managed to escape the fire almost 24 hours later.
“I’ve got a lot of animals so I managed to get them out but I didn’t know until two hours ago that my house was actually OK,” she said.
“We thought it was all gone, the farm. It got to the corner of our field and then the wind changed. It’s a miracle.
“I was just pottering about in the garden and then it became apocalyptic – there was a helicopter then a couple of bangs.”
Sumi Begum, 24, was waiting to board a bus outside Harrow Lodge Leisure Centre late on Wednesday afternoon which had been organised to take residents back to the scene of the fire for the first time since they were evacuated.
Villagers were put up at the leisure facility in nearby Hornchurch overnight, while others sought refuge at Wennington Premier Inn and some stayed with family and friends.
Ms Begum was eager to get back to the home she shared with her parents, five brothers, two sisters, cousin and sister-in-law to see how much of it survived the fire.
The sales assistant said she had been at work on Tuesday when she saw she had two missed calls from her family and immediately knew something was wrong.
“They know to never call me at work so I was a little bit worried,” she said.
“I rang them back and my sister was crying; I couldn’t understand any words she was saying. She had come back from school and found our house on fire.
“My mother was there with my two sisters and my sister-in-law.
“When they first tried to call me, they had just seen the smoke but by the time I spoke to them they said the fire was massive and there was a lot of smoke.”
“I was shaking. I was really scared because I wasn’t there. I didn’t know how bad the situation was.”
A spokesperson for Havering Council said 19 homes had been destroyed, 56 buildings damaged, including three farms, and a number of vehicles.
Up to 40 hectares of grassland are also thought to have been affected, London Fire Brigade said.
Large parts of the village remained closed off on Wednesday as emergency services continued to assess the damage at the scene.
As a cluster of residents gathered at one police cordon to ask when they could return to their homes for medicine and other belongings, a police officer arrived with three animal carriers.
One couple was reunited with a missing dachshund and kitten, while a pet rabbit was handed over to another resident.
Dramatic aerial footage from the area captured thick plumes of black smoke billowing from a row of collapsing houses.
Resident Tim Stock likened the wreckage to a scene from the Blitz after his family home of 60 years was wiped out by the fire.
He believes the blaze was caused by “spontaneous combustion” linked to composting from a grass pile in another resident’s back garden. However, the cause of the fire has not yet been confirmed.
The capital experienced its worst day for fires since the Second World War on Tuesday as the UK was hit by 40.3C heat – the hottest temperature on record.
It joined Norfolk, Suffolk, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and South Yorkshire on Tuesday in declaring a major incident as fire crews across the country battled a spate of blazes.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said London Fire Brigade received more than 2,600 calls throughout the day – seven times the usual volume.