‘What are you panicking for?’ Wennington residents questioned while fleeing fire which burned houses down
“My neighbours were saying ‘what are you panicking for?’ and I was throwing clothes in the car. People were moving stuff to the church and within 15 minutes the church had been set on fire.”
The London Fire Brigade declared an major incident as it took thousands of calls and sent scores of firefighters to battle at least 12 severe blazes simultaneously across the city on Tuesday, July 19.
New temperature records were set as the country was in the grip of an alarming heatwave, with the government declaring a national emergency.
Wennington, in Havering, east London suffered the worst damage, with houses burned to the ground and 90 properties evacuated.
Some people lost everything in the blazes, with families holed out at a nearby hotel with firefighters survey the wreckage.
Resident Ray, 52, who did not want to give his last name, told LondonWorld: “If [my house] is okay I’ll be amazed - the fire was three doors away.
“I got an Asda bag and threw some pyjamas, some boxer shorts, socks and shoes in.
“My neighbours were saying ‘what are you panicking for?’ and I was throwing clothes in the car.
“They were thinking it won’t affect them and it was coming this way.
“People were moving stuff to the church and within 15 minutes the church had been set on fire.
“If I had a hosepipe, I would have been out fighting it myself.”
At the police cordon, another resident said: “All I want to know is if my house is still standing.
“We’re the residents and we’ve not had one update.
“Police and firefighters had to kick doors in, my house could be vulnerable.”
And Joe Lynch, deputy chairman of the local Conservative Association, said: “I’ve heard people have slept at friends’ houses on the floor or at neighbours who are outside the cordon.
“Dagenham and Redbridge FC took some in from Dagenham.
“Donations are being offered but the council doesn’t want churches and groups overwhelmed so they are focusing on a GoFundMe.
“The power grid, Network Rail and utility companies are going in and out.”
He added: “I feel terrible for the residents - people in our constituencies will have lost everything.
“I’ve spoken to someone who said their garden was destroyed but their house was okay.
“Residents themselves and police have no idea how long this will be going on for.”
It’s understood the fire broke out at around 1.30pm yesterday.
The number of homes which have been destroyed is not yet confirmed, but some believe it could be as many as eight.
Ray, who moved to Wennington four months ago, and lives in Wennington Road, added: “The doors of my house have all been kicked in.
“We’ve not been let back in. I think ours is just fire damaged on the outside and not burnt to the ground but we don’t know
“I managed to save some of my stuff and our landlord found rooms for us last night on the other side of Romford.
“It was better than nowhere - they were putting us down on camp beds in the leisure centre.”
Deputy commissioner Jonathan Smith said: “Our sympathy is with anyone who has been affected, for people to have their homes damaged or to lose property is something we take very seriously.
“We are making sure the scene here is as safe as it possibly can be.
“Investigators are trying to determine what caused the fire and firefighters are making sure there’s no chance of a reignition because the ground is very dry.
“London Fire Brigade are with communities at the moment at the respite hall and as soon as we can provide a definitive answer to get them back into their homes we will of course do so.”
Havering Council said it had opened a rest centre for residents in Wennington, while the Harris Academy in nearby Rainham was taking donations for those affected.
Council leader Cllr Ray Morgon, said: “We have now opened a rest centre to help any residents who have been evacuated and are unable to go to family or friends’ homes.
“We know that very sadly at least eight properties have been totally destroyed.
“After spending the afternoon there to help out and support those affected I have to say how devastated I am for all those people and we will do all we can to help them rebuild their lives.
“I want to thank the brave firefighters who remain on the scene as well as those council officers who will work through the night and in the days ahead to support.
“In the meantime we need local people to help us in this vital work by being sensible and not doing anything to add extra pressure on our already stretched ambulance, fire and police services.
“Please also continue to avoid the area if at all possible.”