Fires were raging across London and Essex on Tuesday afternoon as the mercury soared past 40C for the first time.
Fifteen fire crews and 100 firefighters awere battling battle a blaze in the village of Wennington in Essex. Footage showed fields and houses engulfed in black smoke, with a number of residential buildings completely destroyed.
Wennington Village Fire: London Summer Heatwave 2022
One elderly woman was seen crying hysterically saying: “Oh my God - the house is gone”, while her family tried to comfort her.
A rescue centre has been set up at the Wennington Premier Inn for residents who have been evacuated. Others will stay in hotels overnmight, it is understood.
A witness told Sky News he was driving down New Road when he spotted the smoke.
The fire was “immense, so much black smoke in the air”, he said.
He said a number of horses, animals and locals were being evacuated from their homes.
“A lot of distressed people unfortunately.
“There have been a lot of fires around this area, it’s pretty shocking.
“Of course we do, as a country, need to do something about it now, because our children…may not have a planet to live on.”
A receptionist at a storage facility in Wennington told the Standard: “We can see it from our yard where we are.
“I don’t know how it started but at 3pm it was just a tiny puff of smoke- I took some pictures of it.
“But by 3.13pm it had almost trebled in size – it spread really quickly. “
A firefighter at the scene, asked by the PA news agency what conditions were like, replied: “absolute hell”, while those affected by the blaze said it had been spreading “fast”.
One evacuated resident, Lynn, told Sky News that she received a number of calls from other community residents telling her to “get out”.
Her and her husband’s home is safe for now, she said, but her husband is “not too good”.
“Even the heat is bad enough…he didn’t have time to bring his inhaler with him so he’s not too good at the moment.”
She said the fire spread rapidly due to the wind.
Local resident and journalist Francesca Lilleystone told the broadcaster that “a blaze like this is going to destroy the community.”
She said the blaze is “heartbreaking” and it’s like “watching a science fiction film”.
Meanwhile, foootage shared on social media also showed a large fire breaking out on Dartford Heath. Kent Fire and Rescue Service said twelve fire engines and a height vehicle had been sent to the scene near Durrell Dene, in Joyce Green.
Elsewhere in the capital, thirty fire engines are dealing with a grass fire on Pea Lane in Upminster.
A staff member at Sir Henrys on nearby Romford Road told the Standard they have seen three fires from the restaurant on Tuesday, and some customers have called in to say they will be running late due to the emergency responses.
The employee said the British eatery has been “surrounded by fire”, and staff can see plumes of smoke from fires raging in Wennington and Pea Lane in Upminster.
But the worker said they had no plans to close tonight and “no reason” to be worried. They hoped the fire department would keep them up to date.
Other areas of the capital affected by fires include:
• Pinner, where twelve fire engines are tackling a fire involving garden fencing and trees on Uxbridge Road
• Southgate, where ten fire engines are attending a restaurant fire on Green Lanes
• Croydon, where eight fire engines are tackling a grass fire
• Dagenham, where eight fire engines are dealing with a grass fire on Ballards Road
• Wembley, where eight fire engines are attending a fire on The Broadway
• Hendon, where six fire engines are tackling a grass fire on Sunningfields Crescent
• Croydon, where four fire engines are dealing with a grass fire on Chapel View
• Eltham, four fire engines attending a fire on Sidcup Road
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has declared a “major incident” in the capital amid the “huge surge” in fires, warning that the London Fire Brigade was under “immense pressure”.
He tweeted: “London Fire Brigade has just declared a Major Incident in response to a huge surge in fires across the capital today.
“This is critical: LondonFire is under immense pressure.
“Please be safe. I’m in touch with the Commissioner and will share updates when I have them.”
Firefighters are unaware of the full extent of the damage caused by blazes which affected houses, schools and churches across London.
onathan Smith, assistant commissioner at LFB, told the PA news agency: "We've had a range of incidents today, obviously a number of which have been the result of the tinderbox dry woodland and grassland both in central London and in the suburbs.
"This has caused rapid fire spread which has impacted on properties, people's homes, schools, churches and other types of buildings.
"At the moment, because of the sheer number of incidents we've been attending today, we will be pulling all of that information together and making sure every incident is thoroughly investigated.
"Once we've done that we'll be able to give an accurate picture of exactly the incidents we've attended, how many homes have been affected and if there have been any casualties."
He said that Tuesday evening would be "critical" in ensuring the fires are kept under control, adding: "It would be premature to say we are out the other end of this incident".
The London Ambulance Service said the total number of people taken to hospital may not be known until Wednesday morning.
Outside of the capital, West Midlands Fire Service received 717 incident calls on Monday - an increase of 280 in the space of a week.
And Hereford & Worcester crews had 54 fires based around fields, undergrowth and woodland, which it said was a “much higher number” than normal.
The National Trust has appealed to people to avoid lighting barbecues or campfires, and not to leave glass bottles on the ground.
It comes after the 40C threshold was crossed in the capital just after 12.50pm on Tuesday.
The extreme heat is fuelled by climate change, which is making every heatwave more intense, frequent and likely, scientists warn.
The 40.2C recorded at Heathrow beats the previous record for the UK of 38.7C in Cambridge three years ago, by 1.5C, and the Met Office warned temperatures were still climbing early on Tuesday afternoon.
Charlwood, Wisley and Chertsey in Surrey, and Kew Gardens and Northolt in west London were among the places to exceed the 2019 record by early afternoon, with temperatures climbing above 39C.