London celebrations

East London community emerges stronger from devastating wildfire

R

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

Wennington, Havering, lost 16 homes in the mid-July heat wave, and its population was forced to evacuate as around 100 firefighters battled the blaze on July 19.

Many locals cannot return, with some staying in hostels, but those who have say they are talking to people on the streets and planning community events.

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

Ms Edwards said: ‘They’re having a picnic or something on the putting green which is checking everyone I guess.

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

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

The couple’s home escaped the blaze with little more than smoke damage, unlike many others. Neighbors had moved closer following the fire, according to Mr Edwards, who works in facilities management.

He said: “It brought the community together – people saying hello, I had more conversations with people here.

“The guy I spoke to last weekend…he was saying once this is all over, we invite everyone over and have a little party.”

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

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

The razed garden of one of them is littered with burnt barbecues and wheelbarrows, with a limp yellow cord indicating “Danger Zone” spread around its perimeter.

One man, who declined to be named, said: “The few people I’ve spoken to…don’t want to come back here. Even when their houses are rebuilt.

Sitting in a neighbor’s garage admiring a Corvette, he continues: “I guess it’s a generation that will leave, we will go elsewhere now.

“Well, we don’t have a lot of fields now, you know?”

However, the man – left with burn marks on his arms and legs after trying to fight the blaze – believes the remaining residents have closed in.

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

Dave Biles, the owner of the Corvette, lives in the only Marine Cottages property to have been largely spared from the fire.

Glancing at 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 out to those people.

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