Firefighters are unaware of the extent of the damage from the blazes which have hit homes, schools and churches across London, with crews describing the scenes as “absolute hell”.
Residents were evacuated from their homes and people were taken to hospital amid blazes in the capital as temperatures soared to over 40C on Tuesday afternoon.
Two ‘large-scale’ incidents took place in Upminster and the village of Wennington, east London, where black smoke billowed into the air, while flames destroyed buildings and ravaged neighboring fields.
Several other significant incidents have also occurred, with people being asked not to have barbecues or bonfires due to the “unprecedented” challenges crews are facing.
A firefighter at the scene in Wennington, when asked by the PA news agency about the conditions, replied: ‘absolute hell’, while those affected by the blaze said it had spread ‘rapidly “.
Two people were also taken to hospital with smoke inhalation following a fire in Dagenham, with the total number of casualties unknown.
London Fire Brigade (LFB) have declared a major incident due to a ‘huge increase’ in fires in the capital.
Jonathan Smith, assistant commissioner at the LFB, told the PA news agency: “We had a series of incidents today, a number of which were obviously the result of the dry forest and dry grasslands of the powder keg in central London and the suburbs.
“It caused a rapid spread of fire which impacted properties, people’s homes, schools, churches and other types of buildings.
“At this time, due to the large number of incidents we have witnessed today, we will collate all of this information and ensure that each incident is thoroughly investigated.
“Once we have done that, we will be able to give an accurate picture of the incidents we witnessed, how many homes were hit and if there were any casualties.”
He said Tuesday night would be ‘essential’ to ensure the fires are brought under control, adding: ‘It would be premature to say we are on 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.
Sadiq Khan said the LFB had received more than 1,600 calls for help by late Tuesday afternoon.
He also said people shouldn’t have barbecues anywhere in London, including in parks and private gardens – as well as on patios and balconies.
In Wennington, local residents could be seen being comforted, while others were seen removing gas canisters from a nearby pub, as hundreds of firefighters were on the scene.
At least one house could be seen completely destroyed by the blaze, while others appeared badly damaged
Local resident Janet Hickey, 70, who has terminal pancreatic cancer, said she was forced to leave behind all her cancer medication when they were evacuated.
Her husband Patrick Hickey, 71, added: “We had to leave everything behind.
“We hope against all hope that our house is still there.”
A rescue center has been set up at the Wennington Premier Inn for evacuated residents.
Riminta Maceikaite, 38, and her son Nikas Janulevicius, 13, said their neighbours’ houses had burned down but, according to aerial television footage, their house was still standing.
Lizzie Pittman, from Aveley in Essex, who works in stables near the roundabout, said she was caring for five evacuated horses.
She said: “It’s your worst nightmare. You can see it getting closer and closer. People are losing their homes, but it’s bricks and mortar. People are losing their livestock.
Nearby resident Lynn Sabberton, who said she was evacuated from her home with her partner with lung problems, told Sky News: ‘I saw the black smoke and the helicopters came in and more police came in in our neighborhood and it was spreading really, really fast.
“It spread so quickly, I think the wind pushed the fire towards the village.”
Freya Gutteridge, 23, from nearby Hornchurch – who works in marketing, told PA: ‘We are all very worried the wind is strong and we are seeing on the news that loads of houses are on fire and there is no there are not enough fire trucks.
“It’s crazy. Most of us in the office really live locally, so we’re all worried about families’ homes right now.
It was among the fires fought in London on Tuesday afternoon, which were:
– 30 fire engines dealing with a grass fire on Pea Lane in Upminster.
– 12 fire engines battling a blaze involving garden fences and trees on Uxbridge Road in Pinner.
– 10 fire engines battling a restaurant fire on Green Lanes in Southgate.
– Eight fire engines battling a grass fire on Oaks Road in Croydon.
– Eight fire engines battling a grass fire on Ballards Road in Dagenham.
– Eight fire engines battling a blaze on the Broadway at Wembley.
– Six fire engines battling a grass fire on Sunningfields Crescent in Hendon.
– Four fire engines battling a grass fire on Chapel View in Croydon.
– Four fire engines battling a blaze on Sidcup Road in Eltham.
Homes were evacuated in Dagenham following a ‘large grass fire’ which affected a number of buildings and left a man and woman in hospital due to smoke inhalation.
Liam Edwards, 25, from Bexley, studying at Oxford Brookes, speaking about a fire near the A2 in Dartford, said: “It was huge when we left it several fire engines, I’d like to say it’s under control but who knows at this point?
“I’ve lived in London and Kent all my life, never seen anything like this before.”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said on Twitter: “Critical: @LondonFire is under immense pressure.”
He also said: ‘We just can’t cope with the number of fires in our city directly attributable to the heat wave that we are experiencing, to the dry grass, to the way the fire spreads during the heat wave.