Mayor Sadiq Khan warns ‘the grass is like hay’ as temperatures fall and UK travel disruption continues

20 July 2022

The fire service in London faced its busiest day since the second world war on Tuesday as fires raged throughout the UK amid brutal temperatures.

The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, warned Londoners not to have BBQs and to take care with bottles in public areas, where grass remains tinder-dry after temperatures topped 40C in the UK for the first time. The sun shining through glass bottles can create heat and cause a fire.

Khan said the fire service would usually expect 500 calls on a busy day, but had received more than 2,600 calls on Tuesday, when more than a dozen fires were raging at the same time.

Fire brigades in London, Leicestershire and South Yorkshire declared major incidents on Tuesday, as fires destroyed business, houses, schools and churches.

Three fires broke out around London, affecting grassland, farm buildings, houses and garages from midnight in Wennington, Uxbridge and Erith, with almost 300 firefighters deployed in the early hours of the morning. Evacuations were carried out and no injuries were reported.

Khan said he spoke on Wednesday morning to the fire commissioner, who expressed concern about the potential for further fires.

He stated “The grass is like hay, which means it’s easier to catch fire. Once it catches fire, it spreads incredibly fast like wildfires, like you see in movies or in fires in California and parts of France,”

Sixteen firefighters were injured tackling blazes in the capital on the hottest day of the year, with two admitted to hospital, according to the London fire brigade’s assistant commissioner, Jonathan Smith.

Smith told Times Radio: “The conditions that our firefighters were operating in were unprecedented – operating in 40C heat, needing to drag significant amount of hose across fields, making sure we were rescuing people where we needed to.”

Simon Clarke, the chief secretary to the Treasury, told Sky News that the fires were a “warning sign” about the impact of climate change.

“This is a reminder today I think of the importance of tackling climate change. This is a remarkable, unprecedented event and something which obviously, because people have been saying, we are not used to seeing in this country,” he said.

Dozens of trains were cancelled or delayed across England on Wednesday morning because of problems caused by the extreme heat. Record temperatures caused damage to overhead wires, tracks and signalling systems.

National Rail told customers to check before setting off on their journeys and to travel only if absolutely necessary as tracks and overhead wires were repaired.