‘Busiest day since World War II’: London firefighters battle 1,100 fires in 1 day
16 firefighters were injured as the city’s infrastructure, not built for the extreme heat, is buckling
The Charlotte Observer
LONDON — London struggled with more than 1,100 fires in one day as temperatures broke records during a massive heat wave in Europe, according to British officials. The city’s infrastructure, not built for the extreme heat, began to buckle.
The London Fire Brigade responded to 1,146 fires on Tuesday, July 19, making it the “busiest day since World War II,” the agency said in a tweet.
Normally, London firefighters receive 350 calls, according to the city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan. Tuesday, the firefighters received 2,670 calls.
The blazes destroyed more than 40 homes and stores, including “garages, farm buildings, vehicles, outbuildings, a car wash and a church hall,” firefighters said.
Officials said 16 firefighters were injured with two taken to the hospital, but there were no fatalities.
London’s Ambulance Service has responded to 13,400 calls in the last two days, the agency said in a tweet, a rate averaging one call every 13 seconds.
Europe’s heatwave — which has set new records across the U.K. — drove the surge in emergency calls, CBS News reported.
London’s overall dryness also fueled many of Tuesday’s fires. The city received very little rain recently, making yards and parks dry and increasingly prone to fire. About 47% of London is considered “green” space, according to Greenspace Information for Greater London. This dry brush, coupled with high heat, easily became tinder for fires.
On Tuesday, the temperature at London’s Heathrow Airport reached 104 degrees, the hottest ever recorded in Britain.
Last July, London’s temperature averaged 67 degrees, peaking at 88 degrees, according to weather data from Time and Date. Over the last two weeks, London averaged 72 degrees, with temperatures reaching 104 degrees.
Only about 5% of U.K. homes have any form of air conditioning, the most common being a portable unit for cooling one room, according to a British Government report. Conversely, about 90% of U.S. homes have AC units, NPR reported.
Instead, many UK homes were built in the 1800s with heat-absorbing materials, reported NBC News.
The country’s public infrastructure has also suffered under the heat with train tracks, airport runways, and roads buckling under the extremely high temperatures.
The London Fire Brigade’s assistant commissioner, Jonathan Smith, said in a statement that, “Yesterday’s fires are another example of how we are increasingly being challenged by new extremes of weather as our climate changes.”