WILDFIRES forced terrified families from their homes yesterday on the hottest UK day on record. At least five were razed in Wennington, East London.
The 40.3C heat also affected trains and schools, but rain is expected today.
Residents told how they were evacuated with minutes to spare as a fire suspected to have started in a nearby field reached their homes.
A firefighter described the scene as “absolute hell” after aerial footage showed fires ripping through properties at the tiny village of Wennington, East London.
Ray Smith, 55, who fears his home is among at least five believed to have been destroyed, told The Sun: “I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life. I got in my car and got out of there. People were scared. It’s heartbreaking. I think I’ve lost everything.”
Up to 30 homes were evacuated in the village which has a population of 200.
Lorry driver Gary Rouel, 64, raced back from work after his wife Debbie, 64, called as flames lapped at their conservatory.
Dinner lady Debbie desperately tried to round up their cats and dog as firefighters rapped on their door.
Gary recalled: “I had a call and she said, ‘The house has gone up in flames.’ It’s terrible. I’ve just finished paying off the mortgage two months ago. We were told it was a compost fire that started it all.”
The couple’s son, William, 33, who lives in nearby Halstead, watched in horror as their home went up in flames on TV.
He said: “My mum sent me a picture of the fire outside the home from the bathroom.
“It started in the field, then came into the garden, then it was up to the decking and the conservatory.”
One local said his home was “very badly damaged”, but added: “I’m still alive. My children are still alive.”
It came as the UK’s temperature record was smashed by 1.6C. As many as 34 weather stations – stretching 215 miles from Wisley in Surrey to Bramham, West Yorks – topped the 38.7C (101.6F) set in 2019.
And as RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire set a new high of 40.3C (104F), fires swept across a landscape bone dry from the summer heatwave.
Grassland next to the A2 near Dartford Heath, Kent, was among the first to go up along with fields in Croydon, South London, plus Dagenham and Upminster, East London.
Stonehenge was also under threat after a fire erupted nearby.
Another at Lickey Hills Country Park, near Birmingham, spread to around 50,000 sq m and forced people to flee their homes.
It is believed to have been started by a disposable BBQ, which fire chiefs want banned.
Jonathan Smith, Assistant Commissioner for London Fire Brigade, said: “The ground is tinderbox-dry so any small spark is then going to cause the potential for a significant fire.”
Major incidents were declared in London, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Hertfordshire. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said the capital’s firefighters got more than 1,600 calls yesterday — up from 300.
Princess Di’s brother, Earl Spencer, tweeted a pic of a blazing field by the family’s Althorp Estate in Northants.
Firefighters at West Midlands, Hereford & Worcester and Nottinghamshire also saw huge spikes in calls.
In Lincolnshire, crews were tackling multiple fires at Gayton Le Marsh after hay ignited. Parkland in Doncaster was also extinguished near people’s properties.
It was preceded by the hottest night, with temperatures failing to dip lower than 25.8C (78.4F) in Kenley, Surrey — smashing the 23.9C (75F) high set in 1990.
By 10.40am the temperature at Charlwood, Surrey, had topped the UK’s all-time high — and the 40C (104F) mark was hit at 12.50pm at Heathrow.
It made the UK hotter than Jordan, India, Iraq and Egypt.
Professor Stephen Belcher, chief of science and technology at the Met Office, said: “I wasn’t expecting to see the UK reach 40C in my career.
“For me, it’s a real reminder that the climate has changed and will continue to change. If we continue under a high-emissions scenario, we could see temperatures like this every three years.”
Meanwhile one swimmer was missing last night while five others were pulled from the sea yesterday morning at Clacton-on-Sea, Essex.
At least 13 people have died while swimming in the heatwave.
They include Brian Sasu, 14, who got into difficulty with friends in the Thames at Hampton, South West London, after being let out of school early.
His heartbroken father said: “Brian could not swim, he hated being in the water. We are all devastated.”
The mercury is expected to fall by up to 15C today, with a yellow weather warning for wind and rain.
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