Tears and devastation as scores of homes destroyed in heatwave as UK braces for storms

20 July 2022, 00:14 | Updated: 20 July 2022, 16:21

Fires broke out across the UK after unprecedented temperatures on Monday and Tuesday
Fires broke out across the UK after unprecedented temperatures on Monday and Tuesday. Picture: Getty

By Daisy Stephens

A sweltering heatwave has left devastation in its wake after houses, vehicles and grassland across the UK ignited in record-breaking temperatures.

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A fire in Kenton, north west London, completely destroyed a disused church hall, a car wash, two houses and nine vehicles.

A blaze in Wennington in the east of the capital, described as "absolute hell" by a firefighter, destroyed at least one property with many others badly damaged.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said this morning that 41 properties had been destroyed in London by fires in the heatwave. He said it was the busiest day for the London Fire Brigade since WW2.

Further north, a row of houses in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, was gutted by fire.

Barnsley Councillor Kevin Osborne said on Twitter he thought six houses had been involved in the incident as he posted dramatic footage of one home being devastated by the blaze.

Read more: 'I just hope our house is still there': Devastating fires break out as UK endures 40C heat

Read more: Met Office warns of 40C heatwave every three years after UK burns in 40C heat

There were also a number of fires on open grassland, including a 15-hectare blaze in Uxbridge that sent smoke above the M25 motorway, a fire in Dagenham that hospitalised two people and a fire on a farm in Blidworth, Nottinghamshire, that required 15 fire crews and the evacuation of local residents.

Smoke rising from fires being fought by fire services in Wennington
Smoke rising from fires being fought by fire services in Wennington. Picture: Getty

In total there were more than 19 major fires in London alone, with more burning up and down the country.

A number of fire services including in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, South Yorkshire, Hertfordshire and London declared major incidents as they struggled to cope with the surge in demand.

More extreme weather is expected on Wednesday, with a yellow warning for thunderstorms between 1pm and 9pm in London, the south east and parts of the midlands.

A woman is given water and comforted close to the blaze in the village of Wennington, east London
A woman is given water and comforted close to the blaze in the village of Wennington, east London. Picture: Alamy

Fires have broken out across the country:

LONDON

  • Pea Lane, Upminster
  • Uxbridge Road, Pinner
  • Green Lanes, Southgate
  • Oaks Road, Croydon
  • Ballards Road, Dagenham
  • The Broadway, Wembley
  • Sunningfields Crescent, Hendon
  • Chapel View, Croydon
  • Sidcup Road, Eltham
  • Western Avenue, Uxbridge
  • Staines Road, Twickenham

ENGLAND

  • Joyce Green, Dartford
  • Nare Head, Zennor
  • New Brighton, Merseyside
  • Groby, Leicestershire
  • Walnut Tree, Milton Keynes
  • Wales village, Rotherham, South Yorkshire
  • Hamels Lane, Buntingford
  • M1 in Hertfordshire
  • Rushden, Hertfordshire
  • Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire
  • Codicote, Hertfordshire
  • Bradgate Park, Leicestershire
  • Field Road, Denham
  • Whitehouse Lane, Wycombe
  • Woodland Avenue, Barnsley
  • Newton Arms pub, Sprotbrough Road, Doncaster
  • Strauss Crescent, Maltby
  • Kiverton Park, Clayton
  • London Road, Boston

WALES

  • Llanishen park, Cardiff

SCOTLAND

  • Hadden Farm, Kelso

The full extent of the damage in Wennington is not yet known
The full extent of the damage in Wennington is not yet known. Picture: Getty

Janet Hickey, 70, who has terminal pancreatic cancer, had to leave her cancer drugs behind in her Wennington home as she evacuated.

"I've got all my cancer drugs in the fridge," she said.

Mrs Hickey fought tears as she spoke about how she had built up her garden for five decades.

"We've been living there 50 years," she said.

"I'm terminally ill so it's not great to lose all that. I'm also an artist and all my paintings are there."

Patrick Hickey, 71, her husband, said: "We had to leave everything.

"We're hoping against hope that our house is still there."

The two-day heatwave, which saw temperatures peak at 40.3C on Tuesday - a new temperature record for the UK - also left transport in chaos.

Roads and runways melted in the sweltering heat, and a number of train services ground to a halt.

Network Rail confirmed on Tuesday morning that track temperatures had reached as 62C, after air temperatures were already in the 30s by the morning rush hour.

Read more: Thunder and flood warnings after fires rage through homes in Britain's record 40C heat

Read more: Ferocious wildfires rage in Europe as thousands of homes evacuated

Transport secretary Grant Shapps told LBC on Tuesday that the UK's infrastructure is simply "not build to stand" the temperatures.

"Put simply our rail infrastructure, or transport infrastructure in fact the country's infrastructure is not built to stand 40 degree heat," he told Nick Ferrari.

"Because we haven't seen it before and we clearly are going to need to make sure that that kind of with standard of infrastructure is put in for the future because we're going to see more of this happening by all accounts."

As well as travel chaos and raging wildfires, the heatwave also caused the closure of schools and attractions and the cancellation of events.

It has also led to the deaths of at least 13 people in open water as Brits struggled to keep cool as the temperatures continued to climb.

At least four people under the age of 17 have died in open water since Saturday, with the youngest confirmed as 13-year-old Robert Hattersley, who got into difficulties in the River Tyne near Ovingham, Northumberland on Sunday.

Some people, including in Wennington, had their homes completely destroyed
Some people, including in Wennington, had their homes completely destroyed. Picture: Getty

A 14-year-old boy is believed to have drowned in west London, and two 16-year-old boys have died in incidents since Saturday.

One has been named as Sean Norbert Anyanwu, who died in Bray Lake near Maidenhead, Berkshire, on Monday.

Matt Croxall, senior head of membership and field operations at the Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS) UK, warned that the start of the school holidays could result in more young people dying in the water.

The organisation encourages people to swim at supervised sites, and if that is not possible, to enter the water gradually to avoid cold water shock.

The UK's record-breaking weather on Monday and Tuesday has been linked to climate change.

Met Office Chief of Science and Technology, Professor Stephen Belcher, said 40C should be "virtually impossible" in the UK but global warming has "made these extreme temperatures possible".

"In some ways, of course, 40C is an arbitrary figure because we see the impacts of heatwaves at lower temperatures, but for me it's a real reminder that the climate has changed and it will continue to change," he said.

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"Research conducted here at the Met Office has demonstrated that it's virtually impossible for the UK to experience 40C in an undisrupted climate.

"But climate change driven by greenhouse gases has made these extreme temperatures possible, and we're actually seeing that possibility now."

He said he was not "expecting to see [temperatures of 40C in the UK] in his career", adding it is "a real reminder that the climate has changed and will continue to change".