London Fire Brigade (LFB) is in a “much better position” to tackle grassfires in extreme heat after learning lessons from last year’s unprecedented destruction, a spokesman for the Brigade has said.
Group Commander Sami Goldbrom said the Wennington fire, which burnt down several homes, was a “tragic event” made difficult for firefighters as they could not protect their communities.
Temperatures exceeded 40C on the day of that fire after weeks of hot, dry conditions, with strong winds fanning the initial sparks into a huge blaze.
LFB had more calls than on any other day since the Second World War with firefighters pushed to the limit.
Speaking to the PA news agency, Group Commander Goldbrom said: “It was really difficult because every firefighter in London wants to protect our communities and it was a real challenge to do so because fighting fire in this sort of heat is really, really difficult.
“It’s a real physical task and it doesn’t matter how fit you are, doesn’t matter how often you go to the gym, it is really hard. And you can only do so much.”
Since then, the Brigade has been adding new equipment to its toolbox, such as lighter PPE and a holey hose, which is effectively a long hose laid down in a straight line with punctures every few inches so that water sprays out over the ground like a sprinkler.
It is not meant to put out fires but wet the ground and slow its advance.
LFB has also been speaking with colleagues abroad such as in Canada and Southern Europe about how they fight larger wildfires.
Group Commander Goldbrom said: “There were huge pressures on us as an organisation and we’ve had to take a step back, look at where we were and learn from that.
“We’re much better prepared, should that event happen again.”
His comments came as firefighters handed out leaflets on Hampstead Heath warning people not to light disposable barbecues in London parks as they can result in grassfires because of the hot, dry conditions.
The cause of the Wennington fire remains undetermined but firefighters across the country have to put out fires caused by careless outdoor burger grillers every year.
🌡️ After getting very close yesterday, today is provisionally the hottest day of the year so far, with 32.6°C recorded in Wisley pic.twitter.com/TRplAHKRtR
— Met Office (@metoffice) September 7, 2023
Superintendent Stefania Horne of the City of London and manager of Hampstead Heath described the park as an “iconic place” with veteran trees, butterflies and other species that could be damaged by grassfires from barbecues.
Firefighters also warned people to take care when swimming as the water can still be cold despite the temperature rising above 30C.
Thursday was the hottest day of the year so far, with Met Office provisional figures recording 32.6C in Wisley, Surrey, although meteorologists expect Saturday to be even hotter.
Group Commander Goldbrom said: “We’ve got wonderful weather out, we want everyone to enjoy it, but also in doing so we’d like everyone to be safe and try to reduce the risk of fire in the open.
“Disposable barbecues are a real risk for us. They’re banned in most open spaces around London.
“So we’re asking Londoners not to use them, and where they do want to have a barbecue, have it at home, but please do so safely.”