The London Fire Brigade had its busiest day since World War II on Tuesday as firefighters received more than 2,600 calls and at one point were fighting 12 fires simultaneously, Mayor Sadiq Khan said.
“Normally we get 350 calls a day, on a busy day we can get up to 500 calls. Yesterday the fire service had more than 2,600 calls a day,” Khan said Wednesday.
At least 41 properties were destroyed by fires in the capital, Khan said.
Despite lower temperatures, the fire danger remains high because hot, dry weather has parched grassland around the city, Khan said.
“Once it catches fire it spreads incredibly fast, like wildfires like you see in movies or in fires in California or in parts of France…,” Khan told the BBC. “I’ve just spoken to the fire commissioner. He’s still concerned about the ground being dry and the speed of fire spreading.”
Speaking to Sky News, Khan accused Conservative leadership candidates vying to succeed Prime Minister Boris Johnson of ignoring “the elephant in the room” of climate change.
“Look, it’s unarguable now that the weather we’ve faced in our city and in our country over the last few days is a direct consequence of climate change,” he said, according to The Guardian.
“We should be dealing with the consequences of climate change adaptations of our cities and country, public transport homes and so forth, but also dealing with the causes of climate change as well,” Khan said.
London was one of 15 locations across the United Kingdom to declare a major incident on Tuesday as firefighters battled blazes.
Sixteen firefighters were injured around the capital with two taken to the hospital, the London Fire Brigade said.
Britain’s record-breaking heat wave disrupted travel for a third day on Wednesday even as cloudy skies and showers brought relief from the scorching temperatures of recent days.
Forecasters predict London will reach a high of 26 Celsius (79 Fahrenheit) on Wednesday, down from the record 40.3C (104.4F) set Tuesday at Coningsby in eastern England.
Still, the main train line from London to Edinburgh will remain closed until noon as crews work to repair power lines and signaling equipment damaged by a heat-related fire on Tuesday, according to the London North Eastern Railway.
Meanwhile, climate demonstrators on Wednesday triggered a lengthy tailback on Britain’s busiest motorway encircling London, warning that the heatwave this week was a dire reminder for urgent action.
Members of the group Just Stop Oil climbed gantries over the M25 arterial motorway, causing police to intervene and vehicles to back up for several miles (kilometers) in one direction.
“This is the moment when climate inaction is truly revealed in all its murderous glory for everyone to see: as an elite-driven death project that will extinguish all life if we let it,” the activist group said.
The typically temperate nation of Britain was just the latest to be walloped by unusually hot, dry weather that has triggered wildfires from Portugal to the Balkans and led to hundreds of heat-related deaths. Images of flames racing toward a French beach and Britons sweltering — even at the seaside — have driven home concerns about climate change.
As the nation watched with a combination of horror and fascination, Met Office chief scientist Stephen Belcher said such temperatures in Britain were “virtually impossible” without human-driven climate change.
He warned that “we could see temperatures like this every three years” without serious action on carbon emissions.
The sweltering weather has disrupted travel, health care and schools. Many homes, small businesses and even public buildings, including hospitals, in Britain don’t have air conditioning, a reflection of how unusual such heat is in the country better known for rain and mild temperatures.
The intense heat since Monday has damaged the runway at London’s Luton airport, forcing it to shut for several hours, and warped a main road in eastern England, leaving it looking like a “skatepark,” police said. Major train stations were shut or near-empty Tuesday, as trains were canceled or ran at low speeds out of concern rails could buckle.