An ‘apocalyptic’ fire that has destroyed 15 gardens in Essex was started by a chimney, it emerged today – as Ocado halted disposable barbecue salts and homeowners called for a nationwide ban.
Forty people had to be evacuated from their homes in Greenwood Close, Chelmsford, as seven crews tackled the blaze on Saturday night.
Colin Shead, who was in the area at the time, told ITV: ‘It was like an apocalyptic war movie. Ash fell from the sky like snow and covered the roads and cars. I have never seen anything like it.
It comes as investigations continue into the cause of another fire in Feltham, west London, which saw 70 heroic firefighters save 30 homes from destruction.
Loud explosions were heard at the site near Heathrow Airport after a meadow fire spread to nearby gardens and ignited several gas canisters.
About 60 residents were evacuated from their homes due to the amount of smoke.
ESSEX: Forty people had to be evacuated from their homes in Greenwood Close, Chelmsford, as seven crews fought the blaze on Saturday evening
FELTHAM: Around 70 firefighters were called to put out a blaze in Feltham on Sunday, with footage showing the blaze tearing through a back garden
The fire scorched trees, hedges, shrubs and patios to the rear of a row of properties across the road.
A garden shed was destroyed by fire and 15 other sheds were damaged. Several properties suffered minor damage to windows, patio doors and gutters. No injuries were reported.
Households are now being urged not to light a fire and retailers to ban the sale of disposable barbecues as England faces another heat wave in already dry conditions.
Temperatures are forecast to rise into the mid-30s in parts of southern England as high pressure brings hotter, drier weather, following months of low rainfall that left the country facing the specter of drought .
Conditions have left the countryside, as well as urban parks and gardens, extremely dry, increasing the risk of more devastating wildfires, with rivers, groundwater and reservoirs at low levels.
Two water companies have already announced garden hose bans and others have warned they may have to follow suit – and there doesn’t appear to be any immediate easing of the dry, hot weather in southern regions from the country.
Today Ocado announced that it has stopped selling disposable barbecues with ‘immediate effect’.
“This is the right thing to do and we hope remaining retailers follow suit,” the store tweeted.
The Essex County Fire and Rescue Service is urging people not to light barbecues or bonfires, or light fireworks or sky lanterns.
Regional manager Neil Fenwick said: ‘While the summer weather usually provides the perfect opportunity to have a barbecue or gather around a fireplace in the evening, we strongly discourage people from having any kind of fire for the moment.
“The ground across Essex is extremely dry, allowing fires to spread easily and quickly. This is true for gardens as well as for fields and moors.
‘Please help us help you. Please do not have barbecues or bonfires. Please do not use fireworks or light sky lanterns.
The Country Land and Business Association (CLA), which represents 28,000 farmers and landowners in England and Wales, has called on retailers to follow Marks and Spencer’s lead and ban the sale of disposable barbecues across the UK this summer.
Firefighters said the Chelmsford blaze affected the gardens of around 15 houses as well as several sheds, outbuildings and a cluster of evergreens. Around 40 people were evacuated from their homes as a safety measure.
A number of gardens were destroyed and 15 houses suffered damage to exterior walls, windows and gutters. A fire investigation is underway to determine the cause of the fire.
The organisation’s chairman, Mark Tufnell, said: “The CLA is demanding that retailers immediately ban the sale of disposable barbecues across the UK this summer to curb the spread of the countryside fires which are causing great damage. to rural communities and businesses and jeopardize the safety of all those in the vicinity.
“During this period of prolonged lack of rainfall, record high temperatures during heat waves and wildfires damaging the countryside, policies such as this, which can mitigate further potential fire damage, are sensible and required.
“We warmly welcome people to the countryside as they seek to enjoy the good weather.
“But we ask them to help us protect farmland and natural habitats by not lighting barbecues, fires and other potentially dangerous materials such as sky lanterns.”
The calls come as the Met Office predicts another week of sweltering weather for some areas – although the UK is unlikely to see record high temperatures from the July heatwave, when thermometers topped 40C for the first time .
Met Office spokesman Grahame Madge said: ‘We expect the heat to increase towards the end of the week and temperatures of 34C or 35C in parts of southern England.
“After that, the heat wave will start to subside.”
He said the heat was caused by an area of low pressure coming in from the west, but would move away to the east by the end of this week, bringing cooler conditions.
But it was not yet clear from the forecast whether there would be “significant” rains to relieve dry areas next week, he said.
Pictured: The Feltham Fire, which broke out less than two miles from Heathrow Airport, and was clearly visible from landing planes
Emergency services at the scene of a huge fire on Hereford Road in Feltham on Sunday evening
Low rainfall in July left river flows in central, southern and eastern England and eastern Scotland below normal – with many seeing ‘unusually’ water levels there low, said the UK Center for Ecology and Hydrology (UKCEH).
But rain in northwest Britain over the past week has resulted in river flows within the normal range or above normal, and even exceptionally high in the case of Cumbria.
Lucy Barker, hydrological analyst at the UKCEH, said: ‘Current forecasts suggest that hot dry weather will continue for southern Britain through the first half of August, and hydrological forecasts suggest that flows Below normal river flows in southern Britain are likely to persist over the next few months, with exceptionally low flows likely across many catchments.
“Groundwater levels and reservoir stocks are expected to continue to decline in these areas.
“We would expect to see continued impacts on agriculture and the environment in addition to new pressures on water supplies, with the possibility of further restrictions.”
London Fire Brigade (LFB) said 10 fire engines and around 70 firefighters were called to the blaze on Hereford Road in Feltham at 4.35pm on Sunday.