Fire chiefs urge UK cities to prepare for wildfires after 'unprecedented' blazes during heatwave

Hankley Common, Surrey, was just one of many sites that saw devastating blazes due to the extreme heat. Credit: PA

British cities must do more to prepare for wildfires, the National Fire Chiefs Council has urged, after fire crews were pushed to the limit responding to dozens of "unprecedented" blazes during the heatwave.

Major fire incidents were declared in London, Norfolk, Suffolk, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and South Yorkshire amid the tinder-dry conditions as temperatures climbed above 40C for the first time ever last Tuesday.

Dozens of families were left homeless after their properties went up in flames, while firefighters warned the fires should serve as a "wake-up call" on climate change.

National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) tactical advisor David Swallow told the BBC “services need to recognise the risk they’ve now got”.

“If they don’t, then they’re naive,” he added.

“There are very urban services that think that wildfires are low down on the risk list. I understand the need to prioritise resources, but there needs to be a review.”

Aerial view of homes destroyed in the fire at Wennington

Assistant commissioner of London Fire Brigade (LFB) Jonathan Smith said services had already been preparing for an expected increased risk, but added that risk was now “immediate”.

LFB saw its busiest day since the Second World War as a result of the extreme temperatures, with crews attending 1,146 incidents in a single day.

Head of the brigade, Andy Roe, said he witnessed incidents even he admitted he never expected to see in the job.

“I think the word I’d use is unprecedented," he added.

“I’ve had a long operational career at some of the most significant incidents that London has seen in the past couple of decades but even with all that experience I saw stuff this week that I had not expected to see as a London firefighter.”

A man tries to fight the fire on Woodland Drive, Barnsley. Credit: Facebook

A union also told ITV News that firefighters' mental health is at risk of deteriorating from responding to extreme weather events, adding there could be a possible exodus of staff if pay and conditions are not urgently improved.

A total of 16 homes were lost in the large fire in Wennington, east London, and fire crews had to fight to save the fire station itself, located nearby, from the flames.

Residents told ITV News how watching their homes go up in flames was their "worst nightmare".

There were no deaths but more than 40 houses and shops were destroyed after a number of significant grass fires spread to nearby buildings, including in Wennington, Dagenham and Kenton.

Meanwhile, the worst incident in South Yorkshire was on Woodland Drive in Barnsley, where six houses were devastated when a fire broke out in a back garden and swept through nearby properties.

Residents described how they battled the flames with hosepipes for 45 minutes until fire crews arrived in a desperate attempt to stop the blaze spreading to more homes.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know