Wennington fire: Families grabbed pets and tried to dig trenches to stop flames amid 40C heatwave

Families have revealed how their lives have been turned upside-down by the devastating wildfires which ripped through parts of England on the hottest day in UK history.

More than a dozen families have been left homeless after a fire tore through the small village of Wennington, on the outskirts of east London, yesterday amid the UK’s record breaking 40C heatwave.

As many as 41 homes were destroyed across London yesterday – nearly half of which were gutted in Wennington alone. 

Local officials believe 19 properties were destroyed in the grass blaze, including two detached houses, two semi-detached houses, two rows of terraced houses, two outbuildings, six single-storey garages, 12 stables – as well as five cars.

Another 14 homes and 25 vehicles were destroyed in a blaze in Dagenham, while six have been left charred after a fire in Barnsley which is believed to have started in a garden shed.

Drone footage also shows firefighters battling back against a wildfire as it advanced on properties in Brancaster Staithe near Watton in Norfolk. At least five homes are thought to have been destroyed.

Now families caught up in the devastation have spoken about the moment they noticed the inferno sweeping towards them.

Some revealed how they rescued their pets, while others attempted to dig trenches in a desperate bid to stop the advancing wall of fire. 

Tim Stock, whose house was destroyed in yesterday’s devastating fire in Wennington, said he and his son saw blaze in his neighbour’s garden but were unable to stop it spreading.

The 66-year-old, who works as the village gravedigger and church warden, saw his house burn to the ground, but managed to escape with his family, two dogs and a tortoise.

Among the heartbreaking stories emerging from those impacted by yesterday’s wildfires:

  • A son described how he watched in horror as he saw his parents’ home go up in flames on TV;
  • A man who lost his wife to Covid last year has now lost his home, while an animal rescue charity says they are searching for his missing Staffordshire bull terrier;
  • A homeowner was rescued by firefighters after attempting to dig a trench in a bid to protect his home from the advancing inferno; 
  • Another managed to save their property by keep the flames under control with a hosepipe and buckets of water until the fire brigade arrived; 
  • A resident managed to grab a handful of clothes, a few photos and her grandfather’s ashes before watching her property go up in flames;
  • One resident grabbed some possessions and ran to a nearby friend’s house, only for their property to later go up in flames; 
  • A tortoise owner rescued their beloved pet – who is 60 in human years – from their home as the fire approached;
  • Families say they are now having to stay in hotels with little or no possessions after their houses and everything in them went up in flames; 
BARNSLEY: Father and daughter Emily Hanson, 18, and Jason Saville, 48, managed to save their property by dousing their garden in water from their paddling pool in the early hours of the morning

BARNSLEY: Father and daughter Emily Hanson, 18, and Jason Saville, 48, managed to save their property by dousing their garden in water from their paddling pool in the early hours of the morning

BARNSLEY: At least six homes have been left charred after a fire in Barnsley, which is believed to have started from a garden shed

BARNSLEY: At least six homes have been left charred after a fire in Barnsley, which is believed to have started from a garden shed

WENNINGTON: Tim Stock (pictured here with wife Maggie, Vicky Schafer and Alfie Stock) whose own house was destroyed, said he and his son saw the fire in his neighbour's garden but had been unable to stop it spreading

WENNINGTON: Tim Stock (pictured here with wife Maggie, Vicky Schafer and Alfie Stock) whose own house was destroyed, said he and his son saw the fire in his neighbour’s garden but had been unable to stop it spreading

WENNINGTON: The 66-year-old, who works as the village gravedigger and church warden, managed to escape with his family, two dogs and a tortoise. Pictured: The Stock's house after it was destroyed by fire

WENNINGTON: The 66-year-old, who works as the village gravedigger and church warden, managed to escape with his family, two dogs and a tortoise. Pictured: The Stock’s house after it was destroyed by fire

WATTON: Drone footage also shows firefighters battling back against a wildfire as it advanced on properties in Brancaster Staithe near Watton in Norfolk. At least five homes are thought to have been destroyed

WATTON: Drone footage also shows firefighters battling back against a wildfire as it advanced on properties in Brancaster Staithe near Watton in Norfolk. At least five homes are thought to have been destroyed

DAGENHAM: Firefighters at the scene of a blaze in Dagenham, east London, which destroyed a number of properties and vehicles

DAGENHAM: Firefighters at the scene of a blaze in Dagenham, east London, which destroyed a number of properties and vehicles

DAGENHAM: At least 14 properties and 25 cars are said to have been damaged during wildfires in Dagenham

DAGENHAM: At least 14 properties and 25 cars are said to have been damaged during wildfires in Dagenham

Mr Stock said: ‘I lost everything. The house, the garden, we had two beehives, there was no going back. 

‘My son took some stuff and went round to his mate’s house but about 10 minutes later that burnt down so he has got nothing either.

Where were properties destroyed by fire yesterday? 

• Wennington (East London) – 19

• Dagenham (East London) – 14

• Chadwell Heath (East London) – 1

• Kenton (North West London) – 2

• Brancaster Staithe (Norfolk) – 5

• Ashmanhaugh (Norfolk) – 2

• Kiveton Park (South Yorkshire) – 3

• Barnsley (South Yorkshire) – 6

• Maltby (South Yorkshire) – 8

• Clayton (South Yorkshire) – 3

 

‘I’ve been a gravedigger for 50 years. My truck has blown up, that belonged to the council. I didn’t have time to get it out. 

‘Last night I stayed in Thurrock Hotel. The council was trying to put us up in people’s houses but we’ve got two dogs and my tortoise Malty.’  

Speaking about how the fire started, he said: ‘The fire started across the cornfield, at one point I got stuck behind the cordon and the field was burning so I couldn’t get out that way.

‘We opened up the church because I have the keys, we got everyone in, people were covered in soot, they were having a drink of water, but then that started filling up with smoke so we had to get everyone out again. I’m surprised it didn’t burn down as well to be honest.’

Tim’s family home is one of 19 believed to have been destroyed in the fire. Among the wrecked houses are two detached houses, two semi-detached houses, two rows of terraced houses, two outbuildings, six single-storey garages, 12 stables and five cars were destroyed by the blaze.

Despite losing his home, Tim added defiantly: ‘We will bounce back and we will start again!’ 

His son Alfie today revealed how he battled to save his childhood home with a hosepipe.

He added: ‘I was just getting ready to go out and my brother came in and told me he could smell some smoke.

‘It was just a pile of grass, it was nothing. By the time we got the hosepipe through the wind picked up and the embers from that little pile of grass spread to all the trees.

Maggie Stock, Tim Stock, Vicky Schafer and Alfie Stock who have lost everything after the fire started next door to them in Wennington

Maggie Stock, Tim Stock, Vicky Schafer and Alfie Stock who have lost everything after the fire started next door to them in Wennington

WENNINGTON: A woman is given water and comforted close to the blaze in the village of Wennington, east London, where 100 firefighters tackled a fire on Tuesday

WENNINGTON: A woman is given water and comforted close to the blaze in the village of Wennington, east London, where 100 firefighters tackled a fire on Tuesday 

WENNINGTON: Two detached houses, two semi-detached houses, two rows of terraced houses, two outbuildings, six single-storey garages, 12 stables and five cars were destroyed by the blaze

WENNINGTON: Two detached houses, two semi-detached houses, two rows of terraced houses, two outbuildings, six single-storey garages, 12 stables and five cars were destroyed by the blaze

Residents and emergency services are assessing the damage this morning after Britain's hottest day on record sparked a string of devastating wild fires which destroyed dozens of homes and businesses. (Pictured: Aftermath in Wennington, Essex)

Residents and emergency services are assessing the damage this morning after Britain’s hottest day on record sparked a string of devastating wild fires which destroyed dozens of homes and businesses. (Pictured: Aftermath in Wennington, Essex)

Around 100 firefighters were called to an inferno in Wennington, Essex, alone, which one emergency worker described as 'absolute hell.' (Pictured: Row of destroyed homes in Wennington following Tuesday's inferno)

Around 100 firefighters were called to an inferno in Wennington, Essex, alone, which one emergency worker described as ‘absolute hell.’ (Pictured: Row of destroyed homes in Wennington following Tuesday’s inferno) 

Burned out cars are among the wreckage left by a fierce wildfire in Wennington, Essex, sparked by record-breaking temperatures on Tuesday

Burned out cars are among the wreckage left by a fierce wildfire in Wennington, Essex, sparked by record-breaking temperatures on Tuesday

Firefighters are pictured dampening the flames in Wennington early on Wednesday morning, as warnings for fires remained in place due to the dry conditions

Firefighters are pictured dampening the flames in Wennington early on Wednesday morning, as warnings for fires remained in place due to the dry conditions 

Burnt grass surrounds St Mary and St Peter's Church in the village of Wennington, as historic place of worship miraculously remains largely untouched by the inferno

Burnt grass surrounds St Mary and St Peter’s Church in the village of Wennington, as historic place of worship miraculously remains largely untouched by the inferno 

The devastation following the fire at Wennington yesterday
The village of Wennington before the fire yesterday

Two rows of terraced houses, four other homes, 12 stables and five cars were destroyed by the inferno in Wennington, near the Dartford Crossing east of London. Pictured: A sliding image showing the devastation after the fire (left) and the village before the fire (right)

The chard remains of homes in the village of Wennington following the devastating fire which swept through yesterday as Britain hit 40C for the first time

The chard remains of homes in the village of Wennington following the devastating fire which swept through yesterday as Britain hit 40C for the first time

The inferno appears to have been sparked by a burning compost heap around 1pm in parched grassland adjacent to Wennington fire station – which meant firefighters were immediately on the scene

The inferno appears to have been sparked by a burning compost heap around 1pm in parched grassland adjacent to Wennington fire station – which meant firefighters were immediately on the scene

Firefighters fought in vain to stop the fire rapidly spreading on to tinder dry scrubland and incinerating back gardens. As homes were gutted, residents said they could hear the sound of panicked horses whinnying in a surrounding field

Firefighters fought in vain to stop the fire rapidly spreading on to tinder dry scrubland and incinerating back gardens. As homes were gutted, residents said they could hear the sound of panicked horses whinnying in a surrounding field

Animal carers were among volunteers dealing with aftermath of Wennington wildfire 

Animal carers were among volunteers dealing with the aftermath of the devastating Wennington inferno.

Two detached houses, two semi-detached houses, two rows of terraced houses, two outbuildings, six single-storey garages, 12 stables and five cars were destroyed by the blaze on Britain’s hottest ever day. Another detached property was badly damaged.

Leandra Winch, 36, who lives locally, works for the animal rescue organisation Pippa’s Army.

She said: ‘We are waiting for the wildlife police officer to let us in.

‘He has just taken a tortoise to Essex Wildlife Hospital that was suffering from smoke inhalation.

‘There are quite a few pets that could have perished or could be still there.

‘We have already helped people with tortoises, parrots, dogs, small animals and we know there are cats.

‘The dogs aren’t too bad; if you call they come, but the cats get scared and hide.

‘There were a lot of small animals and horses taken to the scrapyard because the Fire Brigade were collecting them when they found them, but they have been taken back to their owners now.

‘Harrow Lodge was where a lot of people were taken last night with donations of food, clothes, stuff like that.’

She said that they are looking specifically for a white Staffordshire bull terrier called Daisy.

Ms Winch addeed: ‘The owner lost his wife from Covid last year and another family member a week ago and now his home and dog.’

They are also looking for a small grey kitten and a sausage dog called Jupis.

She added: ‘We get a lot of heartbreak with the rescue and see a lot of horrible things but this is different.

‘We have dealt with house fires but nothing like this. People aren’t used to it, this is not a country that has natural disasters.’

Arni Vaughn, 45, a science teacher said he has lost everything.

He added: ‘I have four kids, my dogs, a cat, a tortoise.

‘My house is completely gone. I’m numb to it now.

‘I came home from work, left early, got home about two and saw four fire engines and a fire burning out the back of the fire station and on The Green.

‘I thought that’s terrible. I went upstairs and closed the windows and then I saw the fire was spreading over towards us.

‘It was in the next-door neighbour’s garden, so we got out with what we had in our bags, took the dogs out the back, drove off and as I was driving out I could feel the flames coming over me.

‘My wife and kids are at the travel lodge but they won’t let the dogs in so I don’t have anywhere to stay.

‘We’ve lost everything. We are screwed because we were renting. I was waiting to get a mortgage.

‘Our insurance is trying to find us a temporary holiday home but I don’t know what to do, we have lost 24 years of memories.’

 

‘Within five minutes, their house was on fire. We were trying to hose down their lean-to roof to try and stop it spreading to our house as best we could. It went from there.’

Another local, Ray Smith, 55, 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.’ 

Carole Stopp, 69, who has lived in Wennington Green for more than 35 years, also rescued her tortoise Cleo – who is 60 years old in human years – from the blaze.

She told the Telegraph: ‘Thick black smoke started rising at about 1pm. 

‘I said: ‘Oh my god’ and looked out the window. Our neighbour Tim’s front garden was on fire. We rang to see if he was ok. Tim was trying to put the fire out himself with a hose.

‘Then we heard some large bangs – we think it must have been windows imploding because of the heat. We just grabbed the tortoise and left.’

While some families managed to rescue their pets, others who didn’t are in fear of their safety.

Gary Ruel, 63, a lorry driver who was evacuated from his home, told the paper: ‘I’m really worried about my house. I might have lost three cats, I got the dog out, but didn’t have time for the cats.’

‘It’s terrible. I’ve just finished paying off the mortgage two months ago. It’s heartbreaking. 

‘My wife has [the lung condition] COPD and the fireman was just telling her ‘Get out, get out!’.’ 

The couple’s son William, 33, who lives in Halstead, Essex said: ‘My mum sent me a picture of the fire outside the home from the bathroom. She was still in there when it was coming up to the house.

‘It started in the field, then came into the garden, then it was up to the decking and the conservatory. We think the neighbour’s house has gone too. It’s awful, I watched on TV as the house went up in flames.’ 

Neighbour Kia Meadows described how quickly things went ablaze. She told BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme: ‘I was sunbathing in my garden when a massive black cloud’s come across, I looked up and that side of Wennington was on fire and within an hour it had spread to our house. 

‘A lot of this land is built on a lot of rubbish and as soon as the heat comes, this area goes on fire straight away but never did I believe it would come that close.’ 

Meanwhile, friends of those affected today revealed how one woman fled her burning home in scorched Wennington with just her photo album, a cat and her dead grandfather’s ashes, it emerged today.

Two of her cats are still missing following the massive fire which she said might have started in a compost bin next door to her.

The story emerged as a friend, who would not give his name, returned to the village to look for her cats.

He said he was looking after two people who had lost their homes.

He said: ‘I just came down to look for the cats of two friends who are staying at mine in Upminster.

‘I heard the scrapyard was looking after pets but I haven’t seen the cats and the police aren’t letting anyone through.

‘The fire, it was next door to their house, and she seems to think it came from a compost bin. She said it enveloped the treeline.

‘She tried to get her cats out, one jumped out of her hand, the other she got in a box and the other ran off. It scratched her hand it was so frightened.

‘She was evacuated to the Windmill pub but luckily I’m local so I phoned them up when I heard and they came to stay with me in Upminster.

Carl Fox, 43, who lives behind the house which caught fire first. A house fire started yesterday in Barnsley, South Yorks, which left the houses completely gutted

Carl Fox, 43, who lives behind the house which caught fire first. A house fire started yesterday in Barnsley, South Yorks, which left the houses completely gutted

BARNSLEY: The remains of a property in Barnsley after a fire broke out in a back garden and spread to homes - destroying four properties

BARNSLEY: The remains of a property in Barnsley after a fire broke out in a back garden and spread to homes – destroying four properties

Six homes were destroyed in a residential area of Barnsley after a fire erupted yesterday during the 40C heat

Six homes were destroyed in a residential area of Barnsley after a fire erupted yesterday during the 40C heat

‘They are more concerned about the cats than the rest of it. They’re in shock but there are little bits coming back to them.

Residents battled wildfire with hosepipes and buckets of water while they waited for arrival of firefighters 

Six houses were devastated when a fire broke out in a back garden and swept through nearby properties in Barnsley.

Residents described how they battled the flames with hosepipes for 45 minutes until fire crews arrived in a desperate attempt to stop the blaze spreading to more homes.

Jason Saville, who only returned from Tenerife on Monday, said he and his neighbours used a hose and buckets of water to beat back the flames despite pleas from police to leave the area.

Mr Saville said the first house was engulfed in flames within 20 minutes.

He said: ‘The police kept telling me to leave but I wouldn’t leave until I knew my property was safe.’

And he added: ‘A lot of the community came together and tried to help but we couldn’t save those houses there because it was too much.’

Mr Saville said: ‘If the wind has been blowing the other way we would have had it.’

He said those who lost their house were all safe but one family was still looking for their cat.

Carl Fox lives only a few feet from where the fire started and he told how his house only missed being caught in the flames by a few minutes.

Mr Fox said: ‘I got a call on my video doorbell to say my fence was on fire, so I came back from work to find some lads in the garden fighting the fire with a hose pipe.

‘It started next to the fence with a shed and it all just went up.

‘The wind blew it up on to the houses and this is what we see now.

‘If the guys had not lifted that fence panel out to use the hose pipes in the garden – that probably gave us another five or 10 minutes otherwise the whole house would have been up.

‘It would have just carried on going – our house would have taken up and next door too.’

Mr Fox said his house suffered some minor smoke damage and he lost everything from his garden.

‘She lost her father last year and she picked up her photo albums on the way out and his ashes.

‘Otherwise it’s all gone, everything. They’ve got two vehicles and they are not even letting them go in to get them, a van on The Green and a Porsche outside someone’s house. At least if they get them they are mobile.’

Amid the scramble to evacuate people from Wennington yesterday, one woman said her uncle was trapped – and was ‘digging a trench’ around his house to thwart the flames. Police later rescued him.

With its Norman church, Wennington features in the Domesday Book, and it seemed an apt description last night amid the smouldering ruins of charred homes.

Local councillor Susan Ospreay said: ‘Wennington Village has been completely devastated by fire.’

Meanwhile, Ray Morgan, Leader of Havering Council told MailOnline: ‘The village is still sealed off and the Fire Brigade is currently carrying out an assessment.

‘Sadly, a number of homes will have to be demolished. Some of these are very historic buildings that have been damaged beyond repair.’

He added: ‘All the residents have been evacuated and are either in temporary accommodation provided by the Council or staying with relatives. We are all working extremely hard to make sure they are cared for.’

The inferno appears to have been sparked by a burning compost heap around 1pm in parched grassland adjacent to Wennington fire station – which meant firefighters were immediately on the scene.

Distressed residents could be seen carrying buckets of water to the Lennards Arms pub where the community had gathered. Others were hurriedly removing gas canisters from the pub.

Others were hurriedly removing gas canisters from the pub. As the blaze drew nearer, police evacuated the building. 

Landlord Walter Martin, 60, said: ‘I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s awful. People are devastated.’ Pensioner Lynn Sabberton said: ‘The police came to our house and told us to get what we could.’ 

Brian Brazier, 75, added: ‘The fire has burnt my stables out. It started as a little fire around the back of the houses and if someone had been there to put it out we wouldn’t have had all this trouble.’ 

Resident Janet Hickey, 70, who has terminal pancreatic cancer, said she was forced to leave all her cancer drugs behind as they were evacuated. She said: ‘I’ve got all my cancer drugs in the fridge.’ 

As buildings surrounding the Grade II-listed medieval St Mary and St Peter’s Church caught fire, vicar Rev Elise Peterson called for people to pray for the community.

Meanwhile, a firefighter at the scene, asked by the PA news agency what conditions were like, replied: ‘absolute hell’, while those affected by the blaze said it had been spreading ‘fast’.

Jason Saville, who only returned from Tenerife on Monday, said he and his neighbours used a hose and buckets of water to beat back the flames despite pleas from police to leave the area

Jason Saville, who only returned from Tenerife on Monday, said he and his neighbours used a hose and buckets of water to beat back the flames despite pleas from police to leave the area

The scene after a blaze in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, after temperatures topped 40C in the UK for the first time ever

The scene after a blaze in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, after temperatures topped 40C in the UK for the first time ever

A house fire started yesterday in Barnsley, South Yorks, which left the houses completely gutted

A house fire started yesterday in Barnsley, South Yorks, which left the houses completely gutted

Wennington resident, Lynn Sabberton, who said she was evacuated from her home with her partner who has a lung difficulty, told Sky News: ‘We thought it was one of the fields that caught alight over the back of us.

‘But then a neighbour rang me and said, ‘oh no, it’s on the green, the green has caught fire’. I saw the black smoke and the helicopters came over and more police came into our neighbourhood and it was really spreading very fast.

‘It just spread so quickly, I think the wind caused the fire to go our way towards the village.’

Lizzie Pittman, from Aveley in Essex, who works at some stables by the roundabout, said she was looking after the five horses who had been removed from their stables in Wennington, which had burnt down. 

Ms Pittman said: ‘This is your worst nightmare. You can see it getting closer and closer.

‘People are losing their houses but that’s bricks and mortar. People are losing their livestock.’

How to claim on insurance if your home is damaged in a fire 

Claiming on your insurance can be a daunting task at the best of times, let alone after your home has been damaged or destroyed in a fire. 

Here is a step-by-step guide by loss assessors Morgan Clark on what you should do if tragedy strikes.

1. Notify the insurance company

You’ll need to tell your insurer immediately. Many of these have a specific emergency number you can ring that is staffed 24 hours a day, every day of the year. 

2. Secure the building

After the fire brigade has done its job, the home owner is the person responsible for making sure there is no further damage or loss. They should do their best to keep people from entering the house and making sure it is structurally safe – the latter of which may require hiring a qualified surveyor.  You must also have your house checked by a qualified electrician to make sure wiring isn’t compromised. 

3. Find temporary accommodation

This will often be the main priority immediately after a fire. You can stay with family or friends, or your insurer can provide you with accommodation such as a nearby hotel, until you find somewhere long-term.

4. Meet a Loss Adjuster

The insurance company will appoint, and pay for, a Loss Adjuster.  This person is responsible for all investigations and negotiations. They will look into the damage, and will ask questions about the fire including what caused it.  It might be helpful to hire a professional Loss Assessor to represent yourself in this.

5. Loss Adjuster’s initial report

The Loss Adjuster will submit a report to the insurance company. This will detail the circumstances of the fire and recommend whether or not the insurer should accept the claim. It will also state whether they think your insurance policy is sufficient for what has taken place. If you have hired a Loss Assessor, they will discuss with you where you can go from here.

 6. Appoint emergency contractors

These contractors will deal with securing and weather-proofing the property, as well as storing any items. They will also check for asbestos and make the property safe. The insurer might not pay for this until they have accepted liability for your claim, so you might have to pay for it in the meantime. 

7. Appoint a qualified Surveyor

This person will assess the damage to the property and put together a detailed scope of works for rebuilding your home.

8. Claim for your contents

At this stage you (or the Loss Assessor if you’ve appointed one) will now start to prepare a claim for lost or damaged contents. This must be as detailed as possible, with accurate replacement values. For items such as designer clothes or electronic equipment, there will need to be proof of make, model or design.

9. Emergency accommodation/costs claim

A claim for emergency costs should now be compiled, such as money spent on emergency accommodation.

10. Find long-term alternative accommodation

You can choose to stay with friends or family, but you can also move into more permanent rented accommodation. If you have a Loss Assessor they can guide you through your options.

11. Negotiations with the Loss Adjuster

There should now be another meeting with the Loss Adjuster to discuss the entire claim, including how much work is needed on the house, and the claims you have submitted for contents and emergency costs.

12. Move into long-term alternative accommodation

Once this has been approved by the insurer, you are free to move into your temporary new home. 

 13. Tender Process

The Surveyor will put re-building works out to tender, with contractors submitting their bids. They will then make a decision on the successful bids and works will take place.

14. Contents claim

While the tender process is taking place, negotiations will continue about the contents claim. This should be fully agreed and all payments made or replacement items secured before the work is completed on the home. 

15. Return Home

Once works are completed, you will be able to move back into your home.

16. Final claim settlement

After all this is done, you will be able to submit the final part of your claim, which covers all your expenses as a result of the incident. 

Source: Morgan Clark 

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