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The hottest day in the UK destroyed their homes. They fear it is a sign of the worst to come.

As the sun beat down on her back garden in Dagenham, east London, the smell of smoke filled the air. Hilton pretended to be his neighbor lighting a fire, he told CNN.

What happened in the following hours was much worse. As temperatures topped 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) in the capital, the grass fires are believed to have started in a nearby park before engulfing neighboring homes and crossing into the street where Hilton lives.

“Police were everywhere, banging on people’s doors, yelling, ‘Get out! Get out!'” Hilton said of the ensuing chaos. The fire destroyed 14 homes and damaged six more in the area, according to local officials, making the suburban Hilton neighborhood the latest victim of extreme weather.

Fires around the capital destroyed dozens of shops and houses. The London Fire Brigade described last Tuesday as its busiest day since World War II, saying in a statement that the fires were another example of how “we are increasingly dealing with new weather extremes as our weather changes.”

The scorching summer weather is part of a broader regional trend, climate scientists say. Heat waves have become more frequent and intense across Europe over the last four decades, according to a study published in early July.
Global warming has contributed to the pattern, as it has in other parts of the world: the average global temperature has risen at least 1.1 degrees centigrade since the late 19th century, due to an increase in emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases. Changes in the jet stream, atmosphere and sea surface temperatures may also be fueling higher temperatures in the region, according to the report.
On Sunday, fire services declared a major incident in Surrey, a county southwest of London, with local authorities asking Londoners to cancel barbecues as firefighters continued to battle fires in and around the capital. “We simply cannot cope with the number of fires in our city that are directly attributable to the heat wave that we are experiencing.” Mayor of London Sadiq Khan he told Sky News.

Preparing for extremes

Parts of Dagenham looked like a war zone when CNN visited last week after the fire was extinguished there. Cars had melted down to their metal frames, houses were destroyed, their windows blackened, and bits of plastic were all that remained from the dumpsters.

Around 200 residents were evacuated from the area last Tuesday and sent to hotels and emergency shelters in the area, Darren Rodwell, council leader for the Barking and Dagenham districts, told CNN.

At Leys Park, which residents suspect was ground zero of last week’s fire, Rodwell’s anxiety about the future was palpable. Looking out over a burned, ash-colored field, he warned that extreme weather events could become the norm for residents of the municipality.

“We’ve already seen massive flooding in the last two years, which we’ve never seen before… we had about 20 floods in one day. That’s global warming,” he said. “We just had the hottest day the country has ever seen. Again, related to global warming.”

After a month of little rain, much of the land is so dry that the capital is also at risk of surface water flooding, the London Fire Brigade has warned.

Darren Rodwell, leader of the Barking and Dagenham Council, doesn't think London is prepared for more extreme weather events fueled by global warming.

Rodwell, from the opposition Labor Party, worries that Barking and Dagenham is not ready for what is to come. “We’ve always had pretty mild weather, whether it’s summer or winter, but now we have these extremes and we have to prepare for it,” he said. “The county’s infrastructure is over 100 years old now. We need adequate investment in 21st century infrastructure,” he explained.

Buildings in the UK have long been designed to retain heat and cope with cold winters. But with summers getting hotter, some homes are becoming uncomfortable or even dangerous. Compared to cities like New York, air conditioning systems are rarely seen except in newer office buildings and some public centers.

British firefighters have also warned that they are not prepared for higher temperatures. The Fire Brigade Union says more than a decade of underfunding has affected the service’s ability to respond. “Firefighters are at the forefront of the climate emergency,” he wrote. “Job demands are increasing, but… 11,500 firefighting jobs have been cut since 2010.”

‘we lost all’

Barking and Dagenham, which is among the poorest areas in London, has more green space in proportion than any other district, according to the local council. But those expanses of grass turned to firewood during the heat wave.

Hot, dry July weather sparked multiple fires at The Leys Park. “It was controlled and not coming near houses,” but what happened last Tuesday was “absolutely shocking,” resident Zoya Shumanska, 32, told CNN.

As Shumanska’s husband, Lyuben Velov, approached their home after dropping her and their two children off at the airport last Tuesday, he noticed roads were closed and could see smoke and fire billowing from the park.

“I went behind my house and started yelling at the police and firefighters that my dog ​​was in the house and if they could save him,” Velov said, adding that they didn’t hear him so “he decided to jump.” when no one was looking.

Zoya Shumanska's home in Dagenham was destroyed by the fire.

Velov said two firefighters followed him over the fence and helped him break down the gate. “If you didn’t help me, I wouldn’t have been able to save our dog… I would like to thank you.”

His cats are still missing, he said. The 34-year-old is now staying with a cousin, but he said he regularly visits the area looking for them, as do his neighbors.

Shumanska heard the news that her house had burned down while waiting to catch a flight to Bulgaria. The shock caused him to leave his bags in the terminal, but then she managed to catch his flight, bags in hand, with a few minutes to spare, crying alone as he boarded the plane.

“I loved this house,” Shumanska told CNN through tears in a video call from Bulgaria. “I was 21 when we bought it and everyone told me: ‘You can’t buy a house because they don’t give you a mortgage.'”

Shumanska and Velov defied each other’s expectations and bought the two-story property a decade ago. “This house is a big achievement for me, so we want to rebuild it” with the help of insurance, she said.

A melted garbage can in front of Shumanska's house.

“This is (because of) climate change,” Shumanska said, explaining how her friends who lived in warmer countries told her it was colder where they were than it was in London, a city famous for its mild and humid climate.

But even after losing her home, Shumanska and her family “try to stay positive.”

“We lost everything, but we are safe,” he said. “We have lost all this material, absolutely everything, but we are alive.”

Before the school holidays began, Shumanska said that one of her sons had learned of the Great Fire of London, which destroyed parts of the capital in 1666. When his house burned down, “He (asked me): ‘Mum, do Is this the Great Fire of London?’” he said with a laugh.

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