Heatwave led to London firefighters’ busiest day since second world war

Mayor Sadiq Khan warns ‘the grass is like hay’ as temperatures fall and UK travel disruption continues

The fire service in London faced its busiest day since the second world war on Tuesday as fires raged throughout the UK amid brutal temperatures.

Temperatures dropped dramatically on Wednesday, but further travel disruption was expected as repairs were carried out on road and rail networks and at airports. Heavy showers and thunderstorms were predicted to hit parts of the country, potentially causing localised flooding.

The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, warned Londoners not to have barbecues and to take care with bottles in public areas, where grass remains tinder-dry after temperatures topped 40C in the UK for the first time. The sun shining through glass bottles can create heat and cause a fire.

Khan said the fire service would usually expect 500 calls on a busy day, but had received more than 2,600 calls on Tuesday, when more than a dozen fires were raging at the same time.

Fire brigades in London, Leicestershire and South Yorkshire declared major incidents on Tuesday, as fires destroyed business, houses, schools and churches.

Three fires broke out around London, affecting grassland, farm buildings, houses and garages from midnight in Wennington, Uxbridge and Erith, with almost 300 firefighters deployed in the early hours of the morning. Evacuations were carried out and no injuries were reported.

Smoke around houses in the village of Wennington in east London
Smoke around houses in the village of Wennington, east London. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Khan said he spoke on Wednesday morning to the fire commissioner, who expressed concern about the potential for further fires.

“The grass is like hay, which means it’s easier to catch fire. Once it catches fire, it spreads incredibly fast like wildfires, like you see in movies or in fires in California and parts of France,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Asked if the need to get net zero by 2050 was in danger of being ignored, Khan said it “beggared belief” that global heating was not being spoken about more prominently by the Conservative leadership candidates.

“Look, it’s unarguable now that the weather we’ve faced in our city and in our country over the last few days is a direct consequence of climate change,” he said. “We should be dealing with the consequences of climate change adaptations of our cities and country, public transport homes and so forth, but also dealing with the causes of climate change as well.”

Sixteen firefighters were injured tackling blazes in the capital on the hottest day of the year, with two admitted to hospital, according to the London fire brigade’s assistant commissioner, Jonathan Smith.

Smith told Times Radio: “The conditions that our firefighters were operating in were unprecedented – operating in 40C heat, needing to drag significant amount of hose across fields, making sure we were rescuing people where we needed to.”

Sign up to First Edition, our free daily newsletter – every weekday morning at 7am BST

Simon Clarke, the chief secretary to the Treasury, told Sky News that the fires were a “warning sign” about the impact of climate change.

“This is a reminder today I think of the importance of tackling climate change. This is a remarkable, unprecedented event and something which obviously, because people have been saying, we are not used to seeing in this country,” he said.

“What we’ve seen in recent days is not normal and it is a warning sign.”

Dozens of trains were cancelled or delayed across England on Wednesday morning because of problems caused by the extreme heat. Record temperatures caused damage to overhead wires, tracks and signalling systems.

National Rail told customers to check before setting off on their journeys and to travel only if absolutely necessary as tracks and overhead wires were repaired.


Alexandra Topping

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
‘Absolute hell’: firefighters battle blazes across UK on record hottest day
Fire services came under immense pressure dealing with multiple blazes that left homes and fields destroyed

Nadeem Badshah

19, Jul, 2022 @10:41 PM

Article image
‘It destroyed 20 years of memories’: Yorkshire family devastated by heatwave fire
Residents near Sheffield lost all their possessions when houses were ignited by wildfires on UK’s hottest day

Robyn Vinter North of England correspondent

24, Jul, 2022 @3:50 PM

Article image
Low winds stopped what might have been new ‘great fire of London’, says expert
More than 40 houses were destroyed by fires on Britain’s hottest day. Now there are calls for an urgent rethink on building safety laws

James Tapper

23, Jul, 2022 @12:22 PM

Article image
Temperature passes 40C for first time; London fire brigade warns of ‘huge surge in fires’ – as it happened
London Heathrow records hottest ever temperature; London mayor Sadiq Khan says major incident has been declared

Nadeem Badshah, Geneva Abdul, Rachel Hall, Jamie Grierson and Fran Lawther

19, Jul, 2022 @10:29 PM

Article image
Heathrow expansion violates climate rights of children, say lawyers
Appeal court to hear fresh challenge against plans for construction of third runway

Sandra Laville Environment correspondent

17, Oct, 2019 @10:26 AM

Article image
London councils accused of holding up rollout of electric car charging points
Energy company SSE claims thousands of new points are in bureaucratic limbo

Adam Vaughan

09, Sep, 2018 @3:49 PM

Article image
UK heatwave triggers air pollution alert as people flock to beaches
Teenager and woman drown in separate incidents as sweltering heat forces Royal Ascot to consider relaxing dress code

Matthew Taylor and Maev Kennedy

20, Jun, 2017 @12:17 PM

Article image
London to introduce £10 vehicle pollution charge, says Sadiq Khan
Mayor says owners of more polluting cars will have to pay extra levy from October to drive within congestion charge zone

Rowena Mason Deputy political editor

17, Feb, 2017 @10:43 AM

Article image
Revealed: thousands of children at London schools breathe toxic air
Exclusive: 802 schools, nurseries and colleges are in areas where levels of nitrogen dioxide breach EU legal limits

Matthew Taylor and Sandra Laville

24, Feb, 2017 @3:01 PM

Article image
London mayor issues emergency air quality alert amid heatwave
Rising temperatures and southerly winds expected to bring toxic air to large parts of England and Wales on Wednesday

Matthew Taylor

20, Jun, 2017 @7:24 PM