Fire brigades have been battling fires on the UK’s hottest ever day as temperatures passed 40C for the first time in history.
Major incidents have been declared in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and London as fire services come under pressure to respond to the huge number of call-outs around the country as blazes break out in the sweltering heat.
At least 22 wildfires and hundreds of smaller blazes have broken out across the country, forcing people to flee burning buildings and escape fields on fire.
A fire in the east London village of Wennington saw residents lose all their possessions as flames engulfed properties and destroyed homes. A firefighter called conditions in the village “absolute hell” while, as the i reports, “hundreds battled to limit the spread of the rapidly-advancing blaze, with around 40 hectares of grassland alight, including farm buildings, houses and garages.”
Fires spread in ‘tinderbox dry’ conditions
London Fire Brigade said it is “facing unprecedented challenges” with assistant commissioner Jonathan Smith saying fires have spread quickly due to the “tinderbox dry” conditions resulting from a period of extreme heat.
Major incidents – defined as having “serious consequences” requiring a special response from emergency services – have also been declared in Lincolnshire, East, North and South Yorkshire, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. Home secretary Priti Patel said she has been updated on the “dangerous fires”.
Professor Stephen Belcher, the Met Office’s chief of science said this week’s record temperatures could be seen “every three years” adding: “The only way that we can stabilise the climate is by achieving net zero… soon.”
University of Oxford’s professor of climate economics, Dr Sam Fankhauser said the extreme heat is “a stark reminder of the urgent need to decrease carbon emissions”.
University of Reading hydrology professor Hannah Colke said the code red warning about the heatwave was “a wake-up call about the climate emergency”, and added: “If record-breaking weather extremes and energy price shocks that affect everyone doesn’t convince our leaders that some serious stepping-up of policy is required, then I don’t know what will.”
Boris Johnson – who missed three Cobra meetings about the heatwave– has compared his government’s response to the coronavirus. Johnson also missed Cobra meetings at the onset of the pandemic.
The caretaker prime minster said at his last Cabinet meeting on Tuesday (July 19): “We should keep schools open and our transport system going as far as we possibly can during these high temperatures, and keep our fantastic NHS providing for the people of this country.”
The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has warned people about cooling down in open water with 13 reports of drowning this month alone – including the deaths of seven children aged 13 to 17.
XR smash Murdoch’s media empire windows over climate coverage
In London Extinction Rebellion (XR) protesters have smashed windows at Rupert Murdoch’s News UK headquarters in London to object over his media empire’s coverage of the climate crisis.
“Instead of warning readers of the increased risks from such heatwaves as the climate crisis intensifies, the Sun [newspaper] chose to cover their front pages in images of women in bikinis, beachgoers and happy toddlers with ice-creams,” said a spokesperson for XR.
As well as smashing windows at the entrance to the building used by journalists of the Sun and Times newspapers, posters were plastered around the entry proclaiming “Tell the truth” and “40 degrees = death”.
The Express newspaper, owned by Reach, was also criticised by XR for its frontpage on Monday which declared “It’s not the end of the world, just stay cool”.