A major fire which threatened to engulf several homes as well as an ancient church was started when a compost heap “spontaneously combusted”, it is claimed.
More than 100 firefighters were called to the fire in Wennington, east London, as flames burned in an area of scrubland.
Residents and animals were evacuated as several homes were damaged, with at least one destroyed amid the flames.
Neighbour Alfie Stock, 26, told the Metro : “It was a compost heap, our houses back onto the marshes and it’s been like a tinderbox all week.
“It was a three-foot high pile of grass and the heat had built up inside, it just spontaneously combusted.
“Within minutes it had spread. It was only a small fire and when the wind picked up it spread the embers right across the garden, they had conifers and all sorts of trees and it just spread from there.”
Earlier lorry driver Gary Rouel, 64, told the Mirror he raced home from work when his wife called as the flames approached their home.
He added he too had heard the blaze had started in a compost heap.
Gary said: “I had a call and she just said, ‘The house has gone up in flames.’
“It’s terrible. I’ve just finished paying off the mortgage two months ago. It’s heartbreaking. We’ve got insurance but nothing will ever be the same again.
“The fireman was just telling her to ‘get out, get out’. I’ve no idea what we’ll do tonight.
“We were told it was a compost fire that started it all but we don’t know.”
The couple’s son, William, 33, lives in nearby Halstead, Essex. He said: “My mum sent me a picture of the fire outside the home.
“She was still in there when it was coming up to the house. It started in the field, then came into the garden, then it was up to the decking and the conservatory. We think the neighbour’s house has gone too.
“It’s awful, I watched on TV as the house went up in flames.”
A huge cordon was thrown up around the village as firefighters tackled the blaze.
At least one home appeared to be destroyed in the fire, while smoke covered a wide area.
One woman, who did not want to be named, went to the scene to find news about a family member who was refusing to leave their home.
She said: “He’s refusing to leave his house, he doesn’t want to leave the property.
“He’s got a digger and he’s digging trenches around the building to try to protect it. We haven’t been able to speak to him – we’ve no idea if he’s ok.”
The incident came amid dozens of fires reported in and around London in the soaring temperatures.
London Fire Brigade declared a major incident as more than 400 firefighters battled several blazes on Tuesday afternoon.
London Fire Brigade (LFB) assistant commissioner Jonathan Smith said: “We’ve had a range of incidents today, obviously a number of which have been the result of the tinderbox dry woodland and grassland both in central London and in the suburbs.
“This has caused rapid fire spread which has impacted on properties, people’s homes, schools, churches and other types of buildings.
“At the moment, because of the sheer number of incidents we’ve been attending, we will be pulling all of that information together and making sure every incident is thoroughly investigated.”