London declares 'major incident' as fires break out amid 104-degree heat

By A.L. Lee & Daniel Uria
London declares 'major incident' as fires break out amid 104-degree heat
People in Whitstable, Kent, try to enjoy the beach as Britain records its highest ever temperature on Tuesday -- 104 degrees Fehrenheit, recorded at Heathrow airport in London. Photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI | License Photo

July 19 (UPI) -- The London Fire Brigade declared a "major incident" Tuesday in response to a surge of fires amid record temperatures throughout Britain.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced the declaration in a tweet, adding that he was in touch with the London Fire commissioner to discuss the situation.


"This is critical: London Fire is under immense pressure. Please be safe," he wrote.

In an interview with Channel 4, Khan said that 12 major fires were active across London, noting that the capital cannot receive any assistance from surrounding fire departments.

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"On a normal day, the London Fire Brigade receives between 300 and 350 calls and today since midday we've received more than 1,600. That gives you an idea of the pressure we're under," he said. "On a normal day, a fire engine will reach a fire within six minutes, a second fire engine within eight minutes, as I speak to you on average it's taking more than 20 minutes for the first fire engine to reach a fire."


In another tweet, Khan urged residents to avoid barbecuing on grass or balconies and leaving broken bottles or glass on grass, while also encouraging them to safely dispose of cigarettes and report any fires immediately.

"Don't take risks. Stay safe in the heat," he wrote.

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Britain on Tuesday set a record high for the hottest temperature ever recorded in the country reaching 104.5 degrees Fahrenheit in Lincolnshire and forecasters said it would only get worse throughout the day.

The country's weather office reported the record high temperature at London Heathrow Airport. Earlier Tuesday, Charlwood -- about 25 miles southwest of downtown London -- first broke the record with 102.3 degrees.

"If confirmed, this will be the highest temperature ever recorded in the U.K.," the Met Office said in a tweet. "Temperatures are likely to rise further through today."

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Before Tuesday, the previous national record temperature for Britain was 101.6 degrees in 2019.

The record or near-record heat in Britain followed high temperatures after dark Wednesday and before dawn Tuesday. But it's not just Britain.

A summer scorcher across Europe is holding its grip, with other nations bracing for record temperatures. In some places, like Paris, the mercury was forecast to reach nearly 110 degrees on Tuesday.

Some relief may be on the way in Britain, however, as parts of the country are expected to see thunderstorms later on Tuesday.

Hundreds of people have died during the European heat wave, which has also seen abnormal heat in Spain, the Netherlands and Germany.

Scotland was also expected to see another hot day on Tuesday and possibly break a heat record that has stood for nearly 20 years. Ireland on Monday saw its hottest temperature since 1887.

Some areas, including northern Italy, were also stricken by drought, adding to the unrelenting misery.

Elsewhere in Britain, utility services like water and electricity were strained by increased demand and public transit ground to a halt as steel tracks buckled and wiring systems failed. The heat led Network Rail to temporarily shut down the East Coast Mainline and the Midland Mainline.

"We don't take decisions like this lightly," Jake Kelly, group director for system operation at Network Rail, said, according to BBC News. "Our engineers work very hard assessing the capability of the infrastructure facing that record heat, and we decided that we had no choice but to close it."


Emergency services also felt the strain of the heat wave with London Ambulance Service fielding close to 7,000 emergency calls on Monday and numerous schools also closed for the day. A runway at Luton Airport near London sustained surface damage due to the excessive heat.

The historic heat in Europe is coinciding with several wildfires in Spain, Portugal, Greece and France. The Gironde blaze in southwest France has prompted authorities to evacuate tens of thousands of people.

"It never stops," David Brunner, one of 1,500 firefighters battling the blaze, said, according to The Guardian. "In 30 years of firefighting, I have never seen a fire like this."

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