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East London community emerges stronger from devastating wildfire

Wennington residents who have returned to their homes strike an upbeat mood a month on from blaze

18 August 2022

Residents of an east London village ripped apart by wildfires one month ago say their community has been brought together by the disaster.

Wennington, Havering, lost 16 homes in the mid-July heatwave, with its population forced to evacuate as roughly 100 firefighters tackled the blaze on July 19.

Many locals are unable to return, with some said to be staying in hostels, but those that have say they are chatting to people in the street and planning community events.

Jean and Peter Edwards, who live between two rows of ruined houses, said the remaining residents had banded together after the fire.

Fire-damaged cars in Wennington
Fire-damaged cars in Wennington (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Mrs Edwards said: “They’re having a picnic or something on the green, which is to check on everybody, I suppose.

“But it’s sad, when I walk past the cottages and see how they’re completely gutted and think of those poor people, they’ve lost everything.

“And there’s us – we’re standing anyway, at least.”

The couple’s house escaped the fire with little more than smoke damage, unlike many others. Neighbours had grown closer in the aftermath of the blaze, according to Mr Edwards, who works in facilities management.

He said: “It’s brought the community together – people say hello, I’ve had more conversations with the people around here.

Fire damaged cornfields
Fire damaged cornfields after the blaze on July 19 (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“The guy I spoke to last weekend… he was saying once this is all finished we invite everybody and have a bit of a party.”

Marine Cottages, a row of condemned homes along Wennington Road, are almost completely destroyed, with their roofs caved in and windows blown out.

About two hundred yards up the street, the Kent View houses – overlooking a large field razed by the fire – are little more than husks.

The razed garden of one is littered by burnt-out barbecues and wheelbarrows, with a limp yellow cordon reading “Hazard Zone” spread across its perimeter.

One man, who declined to give his name, said: “The few people that I’ve talked to… they don’t want to come back here. Even when their houses are rebuilt.”

Sitting in a neighbour’s garage admiring a Corvette, he continued: “I suppose it’s a generation that are going to go, we’ll go somewhere else now.

Fire-damaged house in Wennington
Many locals are still unable to return to their homes (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“Well, we haven’t got a lot of fields around now, you know?”

However, the man – left with burn marks on his arms and legs after trying to fight the fire – believes the remaining residents have become closer.

“It’s changed a bit because you’ve got to know people,” he said.

Dave Biles, the Corvette’s owner, lives in the only property in Marine Cottages to have been largely spared by the blaze.

Glancing down to the homes of his former neighbours, he said: “It could have been me, I know – but it’s not. So I feel for them, my heart goes to those people.”

However, the blaze was close enough to consume a Spanish villa he had built at the back of his house, melting PVC off its walls and destroying sunloungers.

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