A resident of a village where flames swept through on the UK’s hottest day ever has said it was “like a scene from the Blitz” after around 19 houses were destroyed.
Villagers in Wennington, Greater London, were left stranded after fires first seen in back gardens rapidly tore through rows of houses.
An entire street became engulfed in flames in one area, with neighbours gathering together to seek refuge in a local church, residents said.
Resident Tim Stock likened the wreckage to a scene from the Blitz after his family home of 60 years was destroyed by the fire.
“It’s heartbreaking really. I mean, I’ve been there 41 years but my granddad was there before me, so we’ve been there 60-odd years,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“And to see it all fall apart yesterday, it’s really sad. But as I said, we’ll get the site cleared, fit up a kind of mobile home there, and we’ll start again.”
Mr Stock added: “It was like a warzone. Down the actual main road, all the windows had exploded out, all the rooves had caved, it was like a scene from the Blitz really.”
He believes the fire may have been caused by “spontaneous combustion” linked to composting.
“It was definitely spontaneous combustion, I’d stake my life on it, where they’ve cut the grass and it’s been piled up down the end,” he said.
“People are all going green so everyone wants a little compost heap down their garden – they don’t realise how much heat it generates.”
Mr Stock added: “People have got to take global warming seriously now.”
The resident managed to rescue his dog as he escaped the blaze but lost eight chickens and two beehives, instead prioritising banging on neighbours’ doors to alert them to the emergency as it escalated.
He then led smoke-covered residents to a local church, which he holds keys to, where they washed and caught their breath before being forced to evacuate again when the churchyard started smoking.
Councillor Ray Morgon told Sky News on Wednesday that “around 18 or 19” houses were understood to have been destroyed by the grass fires in Wennington.
He said a housing team was helping people with immediate accommodation needs as a wider housing assessment was being taken of the area.
“People’s houses have been devastated, so we realise the world is changing and we’re starting to plan for the future,” he said.
Large parts of the village are still blocked off and emergency services remain at the scene assessing the damage.
Up to 40 hectares of grassland are thought to have been affected as well as at least two detached houses, two semi-detached houses, outbuildings, a single-storey garage, stables and five cars.
A firefighter at the scene in Wennington on Tuesday described the conditions as “absolute hell”.
Dramatic aerial footage from the area captured thick plumes of black smoke billowing from a row of collapsing houses.
But residents praised the work of emergency crews and the local community, describing the effort to rally together in the aftermath as “heartwarming”.
A rescue centre has been set up at the Wennington Premier Inn for villagers who have been evacuated.
Those left with nothing in the aftermath said people had been “lovely” to them, offering mobile phones and other resources and handing out bottles of water.
“Coming together with the local community, it was really heartwarming,” Mr Stock said.
A GoFundMe set up by former residents of Wennington has raised £5,876 so far for villagers affected by the devastation.
Organiser Natalie De Lucia wrote that it was “heartbreaking” to see residents lose “homes, clothes and memories”.
The destruction in Wennington came amid a spate of fires across London that saw the capital’s fire brigade experience its busiest day since the Second World War.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said the London Fire Brigade received more than 2,600 calls throughout the day – seven times the usual volume.