Residents of a village devastated by Tuesday’s fires have headed back for the first time to see their gutted homes and search for pets.
Wennington, a small community in east London, is thought to have lost at least 18 houses in the blaze, which took 100 firefighters several hours to extinguish.
One man looked delighted as he emerged from the police cordon on Thursday afternoon with his ginger tabby cat.
A box of cat food was balanced on top of its cage, which he may have used to tempt his pet out from the ruins of the village.
A group of around 15 people were the first to cross the cordon, trudging along in flip-flops and shorts as the sun beat down, and were followed by smaller groups throughout the day.
Several carried boxes and cages, some of which were stuffed with blankets, in the hope of finding pets left behind in the evacuation.
A number of cats and kittens, along with a white Staffordshire bull terrier, were said to have gone missing during the blaze.
Nicola Jenkinson, who runs the local pub, rushed back to Wennington on a couple of hours’ sleep from a family holiday when she saw the news.
“It’s just very sad,” she said. “We’ve come back to see if there’s anything we can do to help residents, even if it’s just bottles of water, cups of tea and a shoulder to cry on.
“Over the years we’ve done weddings and christenings and funerals, and of course we know everybody.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel paid tribute to London Fire Brigade (LFB) on a visit to the area.
It was a privilege to visit Wennington Fire Station this morning, where I met our brave firefighters who have worked relentlessly this week combating the devastating fires in London.
— Priti Patel (@pritipatel) July 21, 2022
She tweeted: “It was a privilege to visit Wennington Fire Station this morning, where I met our brave firefighters who have worked relentlessly this week combating the devastating fires in London.”
The crew did not attend the Wennington fire on Tuesday – LFB’s busiest day since the Second World War – because it was dealing with a separate blaze at Upminster.
One farm worker who witnessed the fire, which consumed almost 100 acres of grassland, said it had “gouged” into the landscape.
According to Mrs Jenkinson, large amounts of donations were sent in but had not been properly handed out.
“People yesterday were still walking around in the clothes they had on from the day before, literally just the shirt on their back,” she said.
“We just need a hub, somewhere we know that donations, money, people can gather.
“Everyone’s doing their own for themselves, but they need assistance and direction.”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said LFB received more than 2,600 calls on Tuesday – seven times its usual volume.