Wennington: East London resident fears ‘another accident’ year on from fire


Wennington resident said there is “another accident waiting to happen” in the village as it marks a year since a devastating fire.

Gary Smith, 58, who runs his own building company, said poorly kept fields continue to make his road vulnerable to fires and progress in rebuilding properties has been slow.

The village, in Havering, east London, saw two rows of terraced houses destroyed along with four other homes and numerous outbuildings, garages, stables and cars.

Some 40 hectares of grassland were also affected.

The fire started during a record-breaking heatwave, when temperatures rose above 40C in the UK for the first time last July 19.

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Four fire engines and around 25 firefighters were called to two separate grass fires in nearby Rainham on June 26 and July 7, the most recent of which was 300 metres by 250 metres in size, the London Fire Brigade (LFB) said.

Mr Smith told the PA news agency: “It’s hot again, all the grass is dry again and you’ve got a garage full up with mattresses and rubbish and no one’s done anything about it.

“It’s another accident waiting to happen.”

Mr Smith said he concreted the private lane of his home, some 50 metres away from the site of the destroyed houses, two weeks before the fire broke out in the village.

He said: “The fire brigade said to me it was lucky that I’d done it because the grass would have reached the house and the cottages would have burned down.”

Wennington, along with many other towns and villages along the Thames estuary, sits at level four on the Met Office’s Fire Severity Index, meaning the potential for a fire to become extremely dangerous remains very high.

Mr Smith said his partner did not want to stay in the house for four months after the fire, saying: “It didn’t take five minutes for the fire to get ferocious so living here is a risk.”

A report published by the LFB last week said the fire had likely been started in a garden in the village but determining an exact cause was “not yet possible”.

Planning applications to rebuild a section of houses were submitted in May and approved by Havering Council on July 11.

Building work has yet to start in the village, while one building is still awaiting demolition.

Speaking about the progress of redevelopments, Mr Smith said: “All there has been is boarding and nothing else has happened. It’s been like that for months.”

Another resident, whose house of 48 years was burnt down, said: “It was the most depressing and destroying thing imaginable but it’s nice to come back and say hello to neighbours.”

The 74-year-old said she lost “everything” in the fire, saying all she “had was what I stood up in”, and is living in homeless housing in Upminster after getting council support.

Councillor Ray Morgon, Havering Council leader, said: “Since the fire last year, Havering Council has been working closely with affected residents to help them get their lives back on track.

“This has included providing advice and guidance to private owners looking to rebuild their homes, helping them to navigate complicated building safety regulations and planning applications.

“We have also carried out welfare checks with everyone displaced to ensure they’re coping financially and emotionally and remain adequately housed.”

An LFB spokesperson said the service has “engaged with the local authority and landowners in the area around specific measures that could be taken” and “conversations are ongoing” with residents.

Earlier this month, the brigade unveiled new firefighting equipment and specialist personnel to tackle the increasing risk of wildfires.

It includes a ‘holey hose’, which can create a curtain of water up to two metres high, and 10 wildfire officers and 30 wildfire tactical advisers.


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