The Guardian: LONDON, England, By Emine Sinmaz – The UK must learn to live with extreme weather, a minister has said, as the government was accused of going missing “while Britain burns”.
Hundreds of firefighters battled fires across England as temperatures surged to a historic high of 40.3C on Tuesday. More than 60 homes were destroyed in wildfires, and fire services faced what was described as their busiest day since the second world war.
Kit Malthouse, the Cabinet Office minister, said 13 people including seven teenage boys had died while swimming in recent weeks, as he updated MPs on the response to the heatwave.
He said of the fires: “We do recognise that we are likely to experience more of these incidents and that we should not underestimate their speed, scope and severity.
“Britain may be unaccustomed to such high temperatures but the UK, along with our European neighbours, must learn to live with extreme events such as these.
“The government has been at the forefront of international efforts to reach net zero, but the impacts of climate change are with us now.”
Malthouse said Britain would continue to face “acute events driven by climate change”, adding that a new national resilience strategy will be launched “at the earliest possible opportunity by the incoming administration”.
But Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, hit back – saying his statement was “too late”.
“It has literally taken the country to go up in flames for the minister to turn his focus on this emergency,” she said on Wednesday.
“Isn’t it the truth that the prime minister and his entire government have gone missing while Britain burns?
“We might have cooler temperatures today but another heatwave is inevitable as our climate heats up. Britain cannot continue to be so unprepared.”
Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS foundation trust in London said it experienced significant disruption to its IT systems due to the heatwave and had to postpone some appointments and operations on Wednesday as a result.
Meanwhile, London ambulance service said it had taken the equivalent of a call every 13 seconds on Monday and Tuesday, with a 10-fold increase in incidents related to heat exposure compared with last week.
Firefighters warned “the recipe for disaster is still here”. Riccardo la Torre, national officer of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), said firefighters worked in “ferocious and horrific conditions” on Tuesday in the wake of staff cuts. He said 11,500 firefighter jobs have gone since 2010.
“The dry conditions are still there, the recipe for disaster is still there. We’ve got a lot of exhausted, overworked, dehydrated firefighters out there and the resourcing issue still exists today, the dry conditions still exist today,” he said.
“This needs serious action, and it was thanks to the hard work of firefighters and control staff yesterday that it wasn’t worse – but it was horrific.
“So many accounts we’ve heard of people losing their homes and firefighters getting injured are heartbreaking and we don’t know the extent, obviously, of the exposures they (firefighters) faced.”
He said injuries ranged from heat exhaustion to smoke inhalation and burns.
The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, said the London fire brigade received more than 2,600 calls on Tuesday – seven times the usual volume.
He told Sky News: “It was the busiest day for the fire service in London since the second world war.
“They received more than 2,600 calls – more than a dozen simultaneous fires requiring 30 engines, a couple requiring 15, and some requiring 12.”
West Yorkshire’s deputy chief fire officer, Dave Walton, described the outbreak of hundreds of fires on Tuesday as a “wake-up call”.
He said the outbreaks were a “gamechanger”, and “fires were spreading much more quickly than ever before”.
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The Met Office’s chief scientist, Prof Stephen Belcher, warned temperatures would get more extreme in the future. It would be “virtually impossible” for the UK to have experienced temperatures reaching 40C without human-driven global warming, he added.
The high of 40.3C recorded at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire on Tuesday was 1.6C higher than the previous 2019 high. There was also a record for Scotland, with 35.1C recorded at Floors Castle in Roxburghshire.
Concerns have now been raised over the risk of flooding after the Met Office issued a yellow warning for thunderstorms across a large swath of England from noon to 10pm on Wednesday.
It said that while many places would only see relatively small amounts of rain, some slow-moving torrential downpours could occur.
Meteorologist Craig Snell said wildfires were still a possibility, adding: “Because the ground is so dry, the risk is going to be fairly elevated for a couple of weeks really. But thankfully we’re nowhere near in the situation that we were in on Tuesday.”
Top Feature Photo: A wildfire nears homes in the Shiregreen area of Sheffield on Wednesday 20 July 2022 – Christopher Furlong/Getty Images