Last week the London Fire Brigade (LFB) announced that Tuesday—provisionally the hottest day since records began in the UK—“was the Brigade's busiest day since World War II with more than 1,146 incidents across #London and Control took 2,670 calls”.
This was extremely widely reported, both by news outlets in the UK such as the BBC and the Mirror, but also internationally with articles published by Australia’s 9News and the US’ CNBC.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, made the same claim during interviews with BBC Breakfast and Sky News on Wednesday. A spokesperson for Mr Khan’s office told Full Fact his claim was based on the information released by the LFB.
But when we contacted the LFB, a spokesperson told us the service doesn’t “have data in comparison to World War II” and that the claim was based on “an analysis of factors” rather than “specific figures”.
These factors include the number of fires attended, the scale and intensity of the fires, the number of fire engines needed at these incidents, the frequency of the fires, their geographical spread across the city and the extreme heat in which the firefighters were working.
The claim has also been made at least twice in Parliament, by independent MP Margaret Ferrier and Conservative Bob Blackman.
What information do we have?
The LFB did provide us with some statistics about the scale of the incidents on Tuesday, including some that its tweet and Mr Khan had mentioned.
A spokesperson said: “The unprecedented weather meant firefighters dealt with more than 1,146 incidents and Brigade Control took 2,670 calls on Tuesday.
“More than 40 houses and shops were destroyed after a number of significant grass fires spread to nearby buildings, including in Wennington, Dagenham and Kenton.
“A total of 16 firefighters suffered heat-related injuries, and two of them were taken to hospital.”
There’s no question that it was an incredibly busy day for the fire service—but that on its own isn’t evidence that it was the busiest day since the second world war. An article in the Spectator also made this point.
The LFB does publish data on every incident attended by the service, as well as details on every fire engine mobilised. However, both of these sources only go back to 2009, which means we can’t use them to look at the number of incidents or the number of fire engines dispatched in a single day from the 1930s to the present.
According to these records, the service's busiest day since 1 January 2009, up to the end of June 2022, was 12 July 2021 when 1,058 incidents were attended (including false alarms and non-fire related incidents), during a period of flash floods. The service’s busiest day for fire incidents specifically was 9 August 2011—in the midst of major riots—when there were 538 (or 255 if false alarms are excluded).
We’ve not been able to check which day in these records LBF Control took the most calls, because the data we have only refers to the number of calls received for incidents that the LBF attended—not the total overall. LFB data also shows that the overall number of fires in Greater London—both in absolute numbers and proportionate to the population—has dropped significantly since the turn of the century. There were 7.6 fires per 1,000 people in London in 2000/2001, compared to 1.6 fires per 1,000 people in 2020.
Image courtesy of Paul Townley